Musa Ndlangamandla

A group of farmers from Mpumalanga has been engaged by an investment organisation in Swaziland, held in trust by King Mswati III, to assist in sustainable agriculture, growing food and pushing ahead with national plans to attain self-sufficiency.

Farmer Hansie Crous and his team were engaged by Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a conglomerate in Swaziland whose mandate is to compliment government’s efforts towards economic growth and ensuring a better life for the people of Swaziland. It has various interests across the Swazi economic landscape and agriculture forms the bulk of its portfolio.

Swaziland imports up to 60 000 tons of maize a year, mainly from South Africa, and the situation does not look as if it will change.

“The sad part is that we cannot even produce our staple crops such as maize, sorghum and beans. Through such co-operation with our partners who are experts in the field of agriculture it is possible for the nation to achieve food self-sufficiency, provided we all have the determination and willpower to deliver on this important mandate,” said King Mswati III during a tour of the farming project site, where Crous and his team are providing expertise.

The farmers’ specialty is maize production and animal husbandry. Swaziland has over the years struggled to feed its million inhabitants. The king said the partnership with the South African farmers brought a glimmer of hope, insisting that everyone should be committed to turning Swaziland’s fortunes around.

Crous and his team were engaged a year ago to work on Tibiyo Taka Ngwane’s Dalcrue farm situated in the super fertile Malkerns area, 20km outside the capital Mbabane.

Business Report contacted Tibiyo Taka Ngwane managing director Absalom Themba Dlamini who said the organisation had “upped the gear” in agriculture production through engagement of expert farmers from South Africa.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Global Information and Early Warning System (Giews) brief on Swaziland in June, the country imported 66 000 tons in 2011/12 and for 2012/13 no major deviation on the imports is expected.

Dlamini explained that Swaziland had a choice whether to be optimistic or pessimistic about the challenges confronting it.

Currently Crous is working with a team of 200 full-time employees and there are 100 seasonal jobs. It is hoped that employment opportunities will increase significantly. Crous’s expertise will not be confined to Tibiyo Taka Ngwane. “As a national institution we have an inherent obligation to serve the nation,” he said.

The farmers have been given a target to ring in the necessary changes and implement strategies that will ensure improved production by initially doubling the capacity of maize produced in Malkerns from 2 000 to 4 000 tons, with the view to triple it. Chairman of Tibiyo, Prince Mangaliso Logcogco, said currently Malkerns had 440ha of white maize production and 160ha under yellow maize. Sugar cane is growing on 300ha.

Prince Logcogco said maize and sugar cane production were the biggest activities at Malkerns, adding that there were also plans to increase the size of the land dedicated to growing sugar beans to 150ha.

He said the livestock wing would also be developed in phases. Tibiyo aimed to be a major player in the entire agricultural sector with the view to becoming the single-largest employer in the sector.

Crous is under no illusion about the size of the task ahead. “The most effective methods towards a bumper harvest is to study the weather patterns first and foremost, before thinking about more sophisticated and highly expensive methods,” he said.

The plan is to align traditional methods of farming with modern techniques to produce nutritious, traditional food and commercial crops for the market. It is this approach that has been credited to have seen South Africa rise into a giant in commercial agriculture.

This is the expertise that Crous and his team are exporting to Swaziland. Crous is also engaged in a major drive to impart skills and foster collaboration with the local farming community in order for them to further penetrate the mainstream market dominated by food chain stores and the hospitality industry.

Crous has developed relationships with hawkers who have organised themselves into groups in order to benefit from bulk purchases of maize from the farm. This approach was endorsed by Tibiyo Taka Ngwane.

“Food security is the backbone of every nation and must be the utmost priority. Failure to address this could result in an ungovernable state.

“The founding fathers of this organisation have always professed that its mandate was to compliment the government, not compete.

“I can proudly state that we have so far kept that promise and we pledge not to deviate from that mandate… we work with government and we will continue to do so in the near future,” he told Business Report.

Musa Ndlangamandla is a senior journalist from Swaziland and until January 2012 he was chief editor of the royal-owned The Swazi Observer newspaper. He is a former advisor to King Mswati III and he has relocated to South Africa where he currently writes as a freelancer.