Farmers bid to create sustainable jobs

Adele Cutten and workers in her mohair business

Agricultural sector losses press rural communities to find creative solutions

With the agricultural sector shedding 44 000 jobs nationwide in the first quarter of this year alone, farming communities in the Eastern Cape are under pressure to create sustainable livelihoods for members.

Amid the pared-down farming units focused on food security, Agri Eastern Cape members have become innovative in battling the spiralling unemployment rate in their communities.

Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Stern said high rural unemployment rates in the province were often alleviated only by seasonal industry jobs such as fruit picking and sheep-shearing.

“Our rural communities are often faced with a range of socioeconomic problems, such as alcohol and substance abuse, family issues and crime,” he said.

“Many of our members are working hard to assist the unemployed by building small businesses and other creative enterprises in addition to their farming activities.”

In Cradock, cattle farmer’s wife Tracey Michau started her Boerseep soap-making business earlier this year as a way of putting the discarded beef tallow by-product to good use.

Now her start-up is giving the local community a hand up.

“I discovered the old family recipe about a year ago and once I started making the soap, I realised there was a whole community of women who would benefit immensely from employment,” Michau said.

Although the product is still in its infancy, Michau said research indicated that there was a market for it, with existing distribution points at farm stalls and online organic stores.

She is training a member of the community in the production process, who in turn will be able to transfer skills as the team grows.

Michau’s intention is to secure employment for the women who assist with the sorting and classing of mohair after the farm’s angora goats are shorn twice a year.

“The soap takes three weeks to cure and we are currently producing around 700 bars per month.

“Besides creating sustainable employment for the women on our farm, the soap is also a project that will fund my long-term goal of garlic production.”

At Fish River Mouth near Port Alfred, Agri EC member Adele Cutten set up her mohair business more than 30 years ago.

She converted the old sty buildings from a former pig farm into a labour-intensive cottage industry, which today employs 55 women for semi-skilled and skilled tasks such as spinning, dyeing, beading, knitting and crochet work.

The women produce designer knitting yarns, fashion accessories and home textiles for the national and export market.

Cutten said the Adele’s Mohair brand had expanded in response to global demand to include a wider variety of natural fibres, such as wool, alpaca, silk and bamboo.

Similarly, Elsona de Klerk of the Graaff-Reinet district started training employees on her farm to paint tablecloths and placemats almost two decades ago.

She opened a studio and retail store in town and has trained about 100 community members in crafts, from fabric painting and textiles to woodwork and ceramics.

Products are exported under the Elsona Studio label.

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