A transformative and replicable broad-based initiative within the agricultural sector has come on-stream through the conclusion of a transaction between citrus and grape farmer Schoonbee Landgoed and black-owned company Thebe Investment Corporation.
The initiative, called Project Change, has the potential to provide an innovative and long-term model for partnering between established white commercial farmers and black institutional investors, while empowering local communities and supporting emerging farmers in achieving financial viability, the partners say.
The initiative will focus on the commercial production, packaging, marketing and sales of table grapes and citrus.
Thebe and Schoonbee plan for Project Change to become a market-leading, black-owned “profit-for-purpose” farming initiative that services local and international markets with premium products, while simultaneously empowering the communities involved in the project, through job creation and the provision of education, training and healthcare services.
Project Change consists of two recently developed farms with existing income contributed by Schoonbee, and Thebe’s equity contribution towards the acquisition of almost 400 ha of additional land, with recognised water rights for citrus and grape development.
The companies will also build packhouses and three primary healthcare and educational facilities for the surrounding communities.
The initiative is estimated to create 1 200 new jobs directly, with an estimated impact on 8 000 jobs throughout the complete value chain in the country.
Project Change has planted all earmarked citrus orchards and is 68% complete in developing the vineyards. The necessary packhouses will be built by the end of 2020. The first training and primary healthcare centre will be completed by mid-2020.
Schoonbee, a family-run business situated in the Loskop Valley of Groblersdal, Limpopo, has been operating in the area for 75 years and recently embarked on a transformation process.
The process entails moving from a family-based business to a corporatised business, based on shared principles.
This notion resonated with Thebe, which itself adopted a long-term investment outlook that combines a passion for community enablement without compromising on sound commercial principles.
“While citrus and grapes may be the core business of Project Change, the core purpose is to effect change in agriculture through empowerment and upliftment,” the companies said in a statement on Thursday.
From a business perspective, Project Change will have access to the local and international retail markets that Schoonbee currently services.
Around 70% of the project’s volumes will be earmarked for export to 60 countries.
Joint management of Project Change will harness Schoonbee’s skills, market and cultivar access, packing facilities and partnerships, while leveraging Thebe’s record in investment management and community engagement.