From the glass towers of Sandton to the fields of Amersfoort
With a team of highly qualified managers, his very productive farms are winning awards, too
Afrikan Farms in Amersfoort, Mpumalanga, was announced winner of the Agricultural Research Council’s National Commercial Beef Producer of the Year in September. In October it received the Pick n Pay Rudd Award for being the producer with the most progress shown over the past decade.
Its founder and chair is Vusi Khanyile, the retired founder and executive chair of Thebe Investment Corporation. He began farming in 2000 after he bought his first farm in Amersfoort, 270km from Johannesburg. Today Afrikan Farms owns 4,500ha in Amersfoort, and leases an additional 1,500ha. It farms cattle, sheep, maize and soya beans.
“Ask any economist: the ability to produce from the land is as critical to the success of the economy as a blue-chip company in Sandton,” Khanyile says. “We don’t often think of ourselves as impactful or game changers. Yet, I can assure you, we are. We make a potent and vital part of the economy.”
He was raised in a KwaZulu-Natal township, then in Soweto and the Johannesburg suburbs. “Having lived in urban areas all my working life, I have always wanted a piece of the countryside, a piece of Africa that I can call my own, my home,” he says.
Ask any economist: the ability to produce from the land is as critical to the success of the economy as a blue-chip company in SandtonVusi Khanyile
“As an African I need to belong to the land, to be able to say this piece of land is part of me and as a family this is where we will anchor our roots.”
Afrikan Farms has a herd of 2,000 Beefmaster-type beef cattle — including 1,200 breeding cows — a feedlot that can manage 400 cattle at a time, 1,300 breeding Dormer ewes and a feedlot for weaned lambs. It produces maize and soya beans in a partnership called weGrow with neighbouring farmers Dolf and Thys Bam of BB Agri.
Khanyile employs 22 people and weGrow an additional nine. Afrikan Farms’ GM and sheep-farming manager Phakade Khanyile joined the company in 2013; the cattle-farming manager is Nsika Shabalala and the technical manager Thinus de Jager.
Former senior audit manager at PwC and now COO of Afrikan Farms, Siphiwe Kumalo, , says: “After having spent five years in audit I was fortunate, at the age of 31, to be offered the opportunity to help build a large-scale diversified farming business. The awards are a testament to what the team has been able to achieve so far, including our partnership, which increases our economies of scale.”
weGrow CEO Dolf Bam says they have benefited significantly from the economies of scale of the partnership. “We are currently producing maize and soya beans on 1,600ha. Last season we averaged almost nine tons of maize and three tons of soybeans,” he says.
“Going forward all our cash crops will be converted to pork meat in a new piggery operation that will come in full production in August 2020.”
Khanyile says their success stems from growing their market network. “Afrikan Farms has taken the decision to go beyond the farm gate and supply beef, lamb and, in the future, pork, to retailers and food companies,” he says.
"Farmers need to increase their share in the value chain because even though we are the producers on the farm, we are at the bottom of the value chain.”
Kumalo says as a level one B-BBEE entity with resources, there is an opportunity for Afrikan Farms to penetrate local and global markets. He believes the company is one of the pioneers of transformation in the agriculture sector.
Its strategic vision includes playing a part in the future of farming and food security. “SA should not be importing protein when we can produce it here, create jobs and increase SA's share of the global export market,” Khanyile says.
“At a public policy level, the country is saying the right things about growing the agricultural sector and uplifting our people, but we now need more successful projects and businesses.
“We need skills development programmes for farmworkers and farm managers. Black youths who want to farm, or be managers of farms, need opportunities for training and to be supported. When they come out of college and university, there must be training sites on farms to develop them.”
Afrikan Farms has established a community development trust to fund a training facility that will provide skills training for farmworkers and teach other farmers how to raise funding and develop transformation plans.
Khanyile says although he owns the land on which he farms, this is not the solution for everyone with an urge to work the land. “Some feel it is important to own the property and land on which their business is situated. Others say it is not their core business to invest in property and will therefore rather lease the land. At Afrikan Farms we do both,“ he says.
“The land reform initiatives have been with us for a number of years, and some transfer of ownership has occurred, be it to community property associations or giving people the opportunity to farm on farms owned by the government. Either way, the focus must be on performance and partnerships, and commercial farmers need to find mutually beneficial ways of working with land beneficiaries.
“Farming is a science and a complex business. It takes a great deal of time to master and you need experts to assist you to be productive. Today it is starting to pay off and Afrikan Farms is getting recognition for what we have achieved to date.
“We are most grateful for these awards, but we still have so much more to learn.”