Project grows from garden to enterprise

“When customers buy our products at grocery stores, it empower us and create hope for everyone involved with the enterprise. It shows that there will be a continued market for us.”

These are the proud words of Edwin Mabotsa, the leader of the Windsorton-based Tshwaraganang Hydroponics Cooperative.

This farming project has been supplying English cucumbers to one of South Africa’s biggest retailers, the Shoprite Group, for the past ten years.

Tshwaraganang, through its greenhouse hydroponics, has proven its ability to change lives in terms of job creation and sustainability.

The initiative was started in 1999 in the semi-rural Windsorton to combat the high unemployment rate in the area. after the realisation of the high rate of unemployment that could not be curbed within the area.

The project started small, as the operation of a vegetable gardenBy then they started of operating as a vegetable garden.

Since its formation, the project has grown from a small vegetable garden to a corporation that has created at least 14 sustainable job opportunities for locals, of which 80% are women. They work five days a week.

According to Shoprite, English cucumbers are not considered easy to produce. This is why the group built a lasting relationship with Tshwaraganang through direct interaction and communication.

the easiest produce,Situated about 50 km outside Kimberley, unemployment is still rife within the Windsorton community, and mining no longer proves to be the backbone in terms of job creation and sustainability.

Most young people depend on employment in the government sector instead of venturing into job creation options such as establishing their own businesses.

The cooperative has proved his uniqueness through pulling all stops and showing growth in every aspect throughout the years.

According to Mabotsa,, who studied Physics and Maths, had to shift his focus from the technical background as he studied at school, to farming. he and other for members managed to make the cooperative a success through approaching various stakeholders – like his local municipality, the Department of Agriculture and the National Development Agency – for support.

He saw a gap in the supply of English cucumbers throughout the country, and he explored his observation with everything he had.

“This was by no means an easy project to start or manage. It is a high investment infrastructure setup that needs commitment and dedication to make it work,” he says.

“At the time we started the project, hydroponics was still basically a new concept in the country, and the Shoprite group needed the market to be filled.”

According to Mabotsa, Shoprite has played a vital role in the successful running of his project in terms of creating the market.

The project has grown with the Shoprite brand over the last ten years, making Tshwaraganang the national supplier. It has also been supplying produce to other supermarkets in the province for seven years.

He foresees a good future and, given the skills acquired over the years, he believes that it will grow even more in the next ten years.

“We are just hoping thatwithin the next good years that we forsee the demand will grow, which is something that we are ready for,” Mabotsa says.

Shoprite takes pride in being part of Tshwaraganang’s milestone as it demonstrates their support towards government’s job creation initiative and uplifting of communities.

“This also shows that we are not only concentrating on the big farmers but we help small scale farmers to grow their businesses.,” Madaleen Castanho from Shoprite was quoted saying in a Youtube video.

He says Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP), a value chain development organisation established to enhance growth in the African indigenous plant products and horticultural industries, mentored the corporative for two years.

Mabotsa believes he can now proudly say that the cooperative has the potential to create jobs, and will continue doing so depending on the demand in the market.

“For some families, it puts food on the table because they get a monthly salary that comes into those homes on a monthly basis. They can budget for food, which makes a big difference in their homes.”

According to Mabotsa, the project will aim to increase its produce at a later stage through the introduction of other vegetables. For this, however, the corporative will need to increase its infrastructure.

y are hoping to increase their produce at a later stage through introduction of other vegetables to supply. That they can only be able to if they increase their infrastructure.

At this stage, the project has three greenhouses of about 3 600 m².

The production space is small and has limited room for expansion.

The project management is also investigating the issue of extending shares to some of the longest serving workers within the enterprise.

He points out that the issue of income and expenditure, as well as the availability of land, will determine the corporative’s future moves.

The land has been donated to the enterprise, and management is accumulating a title deed.

“Once you have a title deed, market infrastructure and skills, it gets easier to expand the enterprise. You can’t have one and not the other. With such a package, one can also attract investors into the company,” Mabotsa says.

He reveals that the highlight of the project has since been having a market and the mentorship that they received when they initially started the journey.

According to Mabotsa, greenhouse farming is not an easy thing to accomplish, and many possible obstacles have to be taken into account and overcome. very complex thing to manage as it comes as a sealed package.

“You cant have the other one and not have the other.”

Water problems are a thing of the past, as the project works with the Water Association Scheme in Jan Kempdorp with regard to water sche­dules.