If you plant an apple or pear tree today you might have to wait up to five years before you see the first fruit and up to seven years before the tree is in full production. This means that money must be invested in land, labour, water and pesticides for many years before break-even point and even longer for profit. Later, fruit packing and storage needs to be added to the budget.
According to Agnes Lekhori, Administration Clerk at Bellcro – a joint-venture apple and pear farm owned by the workers at Bellvue Farm, the government and Crookes Brothers Limited (CBL), agriculture is something you do today for tomorrow and for future generations.
“Bellcro is a recent business entity in the Villiersdorp valley in a five-year strategic partnership with CBL. The land was purchased by the government and the workers at Bellvue Farm have become the lease holders. Apples and pears from CBL farms are marketed by Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, the largest exporter of South African apples and pears. I am very optimistic about the future of agriculture in South Africa. It is one of the few industries that can employ unskilled and even illiterate people. We have people on the farm who cannot read or write but know exactly how to treat a tree to produce the best fruit”, she says adding: “this is one industry where not having the skill to write, for example, does not also mean a person doesn’t have many other essential skills.” Lekhori is also an Adult Basic Education Trainer (ABET) which is offered on the farm. “We encourage our teams to take advantage of the training offered on the farm which also includes life skills.
When you treat people with dignity and respect you have a much better chance of success. I don’t want my children to be treated the way that I was so I am sure to only treat people the way I want to be. And, for me, agriculture is all about future generations. This is an industry in which a real legacy can be left. Our hard work today will give us rewards too but will be a valuable asset for our children and their children. When you are proud of what you do; you do better. We want our children to see how valuable agriculture is.” For Lekhori it is disappointing that children of farm workers tend to leave the farm as soon as they can. “Our children would prefer to be policemen and teachers rather than continue on the farm. This make me sad as we grow the food that people need to survive. What is more meaningful than that?”, she asks.
As a CBL farm, Bellcro benefits from access to early-learning programmes at farm creches and community schools. “We have access to facilities supported by the Waitrose Foundation, for example, and computers and internet access on the farm with an emphasis on up-skilling in maths, in particular, through the CAMI programme.”
Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing’s managing director Roelf Pienaar says that there are so many encouraging and positive stories about the future of agriculture that as a company Tru-Cape makes a special point of finding and sharing them. We are so confident about a successful future for agriculture and food security when we hear a positive story such as this one.”