One small SEED: How 1 Limpopo farmer built a business to boost his community

One small SEED: How 1 Limpopo farmer built a business to boost his community

- Entrepreneurial farming in South Africa is improving communities in both rural and urban environments and while doing so moving the country closer to achieving its development goals

- South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) recognises that entrepreneurs are vital for increasing job creation in the country

- The NDP names agriculture as one sector with immense potential for creating jobs, developing the rural economy and empowering farm workers

PAY ATTENTION: Click “See First” under the “Following” tab to see News on your News Feed! gathers that a family-owned social enterprise in the northernmost rural area of Limpopo is helping develop the area near the small town of Alldays and having a ripple effect right across the local municipality of Blouberg.

Will Coetsee who runs Botanical Natural Products, a farm and small factory producing gels from an indigenous South African plant, Bulbine.

The farm grows the plant which is then harvested and the gel extracted from the leaves in the factory which produces raw product to be sold to the cosmetic market.

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Even though the business is small and employs less than 30 people in total, the effects of the business stretch across the whole local Municipality, and area where unemployment, illiteracy and high levels of HIV/Aids are the norm. The area is also home mostly to women as many men have loved to urban areas seeking employment opportunities.

Coetsee has taken pain to provide growth opportunities for those he employs. He encourages them to teach new employees, and themselves move up towards supervisory and management positions within the company. “Because of the high unemployment rate in this area, we had to help people overcome the fear that if they teach someone else to do their job, they’ll be replaced,” he explained.

The 28 employees at present include, four managers and three supervisors, while the rest work in the plantations or on processing the product in the factory and together they provide for more than 300 people.

Botanica is the sole producer of the Bulbine extract in the world. When he launched the enterprise in 2011, Coetsee and his initial founding staff had to learn about the product and production methods while actually doing the work, “on the job”. “My staff had to learn and grow with me,” said Coetsee.

Wellness makes business sense

Botanica staff are afforded opportunities to make extra income by buying the finished gel at a discounted amount so that they can resell it and keep the profit. Rather than seeing his staff as potential competition, Coetsee sees upskilling his staff as a priority. He helps them develop skills in marketing, business management and professional development in workshops which equip employees with skills to start their own ventures.

This approach is consistent with the strategy government has identified as important for community development. Skills development features strongly in the NDP. “South Africa needs faster and more inclusive growth. Key elements of this strategy include… improving skills development,” reads the official policy documentation. It especially identifies as a central goal the improvement and increased skills development specifically in the agricultural sector. And Coetsee’s business ticks all those boxes.

Health is also essential. Botanica employees are able to attend two monthly clinic days without taking leave. The business also provides a variety of courses including first aid courses, HIV/Aids awareness, and family planning workshops every year. “We’re not just looking after their wellbeing,” Coetsee admits. “Healthy employees also take fewer sick days, which is good for the business.”

From SEED to branching out

For all the contributions to uplifting his communityCoetsee won a SEED Award in 2014.

SEED is a global partnership supportive of innovative small and medium sized enterprises. It seeks to provides entrepreneurial solutions to challenges of sustainability in developing countries.

With the funding Coetsee received through his SEED Award exposure, he was able to begin diversifying Botanica, branching out into the production of Moringa powder for the nutritional market.

The business recently planted 7 000 Moringa trees and makes powder from its leaves as well as using the trees as a way to give back to the larger community. “We’ve donated Moringas to local schools, and we teach them how to plant the trees and how to harvest seeds and leaves. Then we buy those back and extract the powder to sell on. This creates revenue for the schools so that they can buy water tanks or drill boreholes, for example,” explained Coetsee who estimates that more than 200 people could be employed once the project is fully established.

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