Image source, Elna Schutz
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Siphiwe Sithole: “The further away you go from the marketplace, the more you’re going bleed.”

Siphiwe Sithole, a small farmer just outside Johannesburg, grows native crops like amadumbe (coco yams) and bittergreens.

Farming a smallholding can prove difficult in South Africa. Her challenges include robberies, farm worker attacks, and the inability to access fertile land or water.

This is not unusual in sub-Saharan Africa. Smallholder farms of less than 10 hectares or 25 acres in size account for approximately 80%.

But Ms Sithole has found success by focusing on one niche market, organic and native produce. African Marmalade is her brand.

This allows her to not compete with large commercial farms which can purchase fertilisers and more access to markets.

She also knows the importance of supporting small-holders in their efforts to lower running costs.

We’ve all seen that the higher the oil prices, the more you will bleed. You won’t be able sell any of your stuff. [produce]She explains.

South Africa has large farms that have access to greater resources such as knowledge and funds. However, small farmers are often unable to grow or sustain their operations.

However, one company is using technology to create a successful business and level the playing fields for small farms.

Agri-tech startup, Khula! Johannesburg is the home of Khula!

It was established in 2018 by a group of approximately 7.500 farmers. There are also hundreds of suppliers and advisers.

The company has an online shop that sells raw materials such as seeds, fertilizers, and chemicals. It also provides technical support and information, which is especially useful for rural farmers.

Ayanda Vana, chief operating officers, says that if you’re first-generation farmers, you don’t know much about your neighbors.

Khula is another great resource. The app is currently in testing. When it’s up and running, farmers will be able sell their crops to retailers or other buyers directly.

Smallholders could be less uncertain as wholesale prices change constantly. Agents handling these deals typically get a 15% cut.

A dashboard is also available that connects small farmers with potential investors.

Funding was “the biggest issue or cry within this space,” said Mrs Vana. Funding is what you need as a farmer to scale up, or grow.

Khula! The platform is not without competition, especially when it comes selling produce. Ms Sithole uses HelloChoice, for example.

Maluta Netshaulu (senior manager, agriculture, Nedbank) thinks Khula is a good idea.The proposal has great potential.

“There are many platforms available.” [around]At the moment there aren’t any that helps farmers source inputs.

His primary concern is Khula apps! It is important to determine if they have enough market share so that they will be able and able to survive. They can reach small farmers enough to make a difference on many farms.

“This company is trying to disrupt markets and provide a solution for all,” he said. How are you going ensure that your offer is valued by people?”

Patricia Seaba, of TC Women in Action Farming grows vegetables such as lettuce, peppers, and cucumbers in 17.5 hectares (43 acre) near Pretoria.

Before switching to an app, she used to drive more than 100km (60 mi) each six weeks to get to her closest supplier.

She chuckles, “We love shopping online.” She adds that “accessing private markets can be a challenge” because you can’t plant everything you like, but it is difficult to find markets.

Ms. Sithole would like to see more service providers that cater specifically to the organic market. A central point of information and support would be a plus, especially for things like selecting crops and identifying insects.

It is essential that there be a simple and consolidated platform in South Africa.


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