Igniting Youth Interest in Agriculture


The agricultural sector is an important driver of growth, contributing about 6 percent of the country’s labour force and presenting significant export opportunities. It is also an important sector for small businesses.

The Timbali Technology Incubator, in recognition of the challenges and opportunities in the sector, aims to addresses two problems: an agri-produce shortage in the local and export markets, which requires new entrants to fill the gap, and the inability of many smallholder farmers to make informed decisions, affecting their efficiency, productivity and competitiveness.

Through the Lyndenburg and Komatipoort Agri-Parks, Timbali connects low-skilled, young, inexperienced and unemployed people in Mpumalanga’s rural areas to markets by building their capacity, providing skills training and offering strategic facilitation. The Timbali model is based on clustering groups of farmers together to share services and create bulk buying power, operating in a market-driven environment – where crops are planned around market demand – with a coordinated market supply chain. The average age of farmers in the project is below 35, all are previously disadvantaged, and 77 percent of are women. Timbali’s farmers start exporting immediately due to the market access provided by the project.

“We are very grateful that based on the passion and sheer hard work of both the Timbali team and the young farmers, who would go out in the 44°C sun, we have achieved the contracted outcomes,” says Timbali CEO Louise de Klerk.

The project is scheduled for completion at the end of September 2017 and is set to meet its contracted targets, having created 309 new permanent jobs, 942 short-term jobs and trained 555 beneficiaries to date. Training takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, covering topics such as soil preparation, harvesting, marketing and sales.

The project has faced its fair share of challenges, including prolonged drought. “We are fortunate that our winter Agri-Park in Komatipoort has managed to deliver on its retail orders due to the more than nine boreholes on the farm. Summer export orders were the highest to date, but the project had been forced to halve the hectorage planted due to the water shortage,” says de Klerk.

The February rains were a welcome relief, refiling all the boreholes and bringing the Lyndenburg dam to 100 percent by the end of the month.

According to Timbali, retailers buy at about 50 percent lower than export market, and although smallholder farmers supply good produce, there is still an issue of consistency of supply. In addition, retailers seem to want discounts for ordering produce and for the marketing done for their promotions.

Turnover for the two Agri-Parks has totaled R12.4 million since the project’s inception. Although more than half of the sales for Timbali’s four Agri-Parks were to the retail market, the highest returns came from the export market. About 36 percent of the kilograms harvested for local markets yield a 14 percent return, compared to 30 percent from 10 percent of the kilograms harvested for the export market. The export market pays about R50 per kilogram, retail pays R20 and wholesale pays R8 per kilogram.

De Klerk says that the effect on surrounding communities will only truly be evident in the next few years because of the project’s steep learning curve. But the beneficiaries already have a better understanding of what goes into running a business and how the market works. This is all thanks to Timbali’s incremental incubation model, which provides weekly training and testing. According to Timbali, It takes between 18 and 24 months to select its SMMEs.

The SMMEs have access to the crop rotational fund from the first day crops are planted, and each business’ loan amounts to R33 000. Due to the minimum wage hike, increasing from R1 500 when the project started to R2 700 today, the crop rotational fund will be depleted sooner than planned. Timbali is making provision for the qualifying SMMEs to apply for their own loan financing based on their current sales and improved yield.

Timbali’s franchise system allows for replicability across provinces and industries, and this is the basis for its expansion plan to continuously satisfy market demand. It wants to duplicate the model in at least three provinces.

“We have an appetite for growth into new areas,” says de Klerk. “Inclusive job creation takes time, money and sacrifice.”