Around Port Shepstone and Margate in South Africa, most of the people know the brand ‘Kumnandi’ which sells fresh and organic products! This is the result of a new model created by Siyavuna, an NGO born in 2010 to stimulate local economic development through its innovative agricultural programme that respects a pro-poor approach and fair trade principles. More than 600 farmers are involved in the process! Interview with Diane Pieters, director of Siyavuna.
Interview conducted in June 2014.
Diane Pieters, director of Siyavuna
Why Siyavuna was created?
“The organization was created to help stimulate economic participation and financial independence of families and communities here in Ugu district.
How does it work today?
“We work with very under-resourced communities, only in the rural areas where the greatest need is. We start by offering training in organic farming, and then giving our people an opportunity to join a farmer association in their area. They can sign up to sell their products: they get a chance to go to a collection point that is at walking distance from their home, at the same time the same day each week. They sell their products and are paid cash. As a result, the money can circulate into the community.
And you created a brand, Kumnandi?
“That is a very important part of the model. Kumnandi is a well-known brand on the coast, because there is a good story behind it. It is known as a brand with fresh and organically grown produces. All the farmers see themselves as being on the same team. They are not competing with each other, because they are all Kumnandi farmers. It works very powerfully to create demand and to create cohesion between farmers.
How many farmers are in the process, four years after the creation?
“We have just over 600 farmers involved in the programme. We have trained a lot more than 600, because some of them are growing for themselves and not to sell.
So, I imagine that you are convinced that organic farming is a good solution for these small-scale famers?
“I am really convinced of that! The kind of feedback that we get from farmers is: ‘this is working for us’, ‘it is a cheaper solution as we don’t have to keep buying fertilizers and chemicals’, ‘we are learning to look after our soil and our land in a way that is going to be sustainable for our children’. So, in terms of cost, of looking after the environment and in terms of sustainability, I am convinced it is appropriate for small-scale farmers.
First, farmers grow their own food, and in a second stage they sell their products and create micro-enterprises through cooperatives?
“Yes, and it is totally up to the individual: depending on the circumstances, they may be comfortable and happy to be growing for themselves and their family. It is a huge contrast with what they had before. Some of them like that they can get income occasionally, so they sell their products when they have excess. Some of them sell more regularly. The top 25% of the farmers really see it as business and they work really hard all year round, making sure they have excess produces to sell.
Can you give three words to describe the spirit of Siyavuna?
“Empowerment, independence, environment.
What was the biggest challenge since 2010?
“Our programme is about changing mind-sets, so that it the biggest challenge. When they start, most people are dependent on government grants, and to shift them from that to thinking that they can run this business themselves takes time. It begins with small goals, and little by little they can set themselves bigger goals and become an entrepreneur.
Today, a lot of young South Africans want to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure to improve society. Do you have a piece of advice for them?
“Do what you love to do. When I go and visit farmers, what stands out to me is how they love to do what they do. They often say: ‘I will do this even if there is no money, I really love doing it.’ Also, be creative about the area of what you love. For example, you may not want to work on a field, but if you are interested in agriculture, there are a lot of possibilities as an entrepreneur: be a seedling producer, do water solutions… Last thing: be sure that you are in a network where you have support.
A last word?
“I am very excited about Siyavuna’s future when I see what the farmers are developing! They are growing in independence, in confidence. They even now advocate for themselves with government. There is such a need for successful agriculture, a huge need for food production at a local and a global level. Our model is an example of how you can use very small scale to build up something that can make a difference in the market. There is a big potential for this model to be replicated across other parts of the world.