Shukela visited the tribal authority area of Gqumisa, a picturesque area with rolling green hills where a community is working together to change their lives and their futures.  It is called the Zamani Project and is in Illovo, just 20km from Noodsberg Mill. 

The project started in 2002 with 91 members on 125 hectares, and although a few members have since resigned, the project continues to go from strength to strength. There have been setbacks including cane fires in 2014 which saw a reduced tonnage but the community is looking forward to good yields and tonnage for the season ending in 2017.

Canegrowers’ Grower Support Officer for the region Patrick Bhengu provided some insight into the Gqugquma Cane Development Project, trading as the Zamani Project.

“It was kick-started with help from Gijima grant funding initially and a bank loan, which has since been paid in full. There has been ongoing support, including CANEGROWERS assisting with the books and giving institutional support and economic advice. There has also been extension support through a joint venture between the industry and the Department of Rural Development. Agronomic advice has been a huge help to this motivated community, which is very dedicated to improving its crop,” he said.

The project is managed by a committee of seven people and current chairperson is Zakaria Khuzwayo, who has been involved from day one. The committee is responsible for daily operations such as ratoon management, harvesting, planting etc.  Project growers’ general meetings are held monthly.

Cane is harvested on one grower code. Each farmer rents his/her land to the project and the money is divided on a per hectare basis after all costs have been paid.  Farmers receive payments/rentals twice a year ie in December, when harvesting is completed and in April, after final cane payment.   

Currently, there were 66 members, Khuzwayo said. “The project was spearheaded by local farmers in the community who realised they needed guidance in sustainable farming. They approached successful neighbouring commercial farmers to ask for help in planting and looking after sugar cane. It was an excellent relationship, and worked very well.”

The project has encountered some difficulties in moving away from a Close Corporation to a registered Co-Op. A major advantage of a co-op, added Khuzwayo, was that it enabled access to government grants and funding. “A closed corporation doesn’t qualify.”

The project was seen as a success by neighbouring communities, and had been emulated by others. “Since Zamani started, many people have come and looked at how we run it. Six similar projects have been started by neighbours, who used the blueprint to develop their own within their communities.”

On estimates for the season’s yields, Khuzwayo said: “We anticipate a total of about 3000 tons.”

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