Jill Whyte receives her Female Exporter of the Year award.

Jill Whyte receives her Female Exporter of the Year award.

The macadamia industry’s contribution to South Africa has been noted, with one exporter scooping two awards for her efforts in industry transformation, farmer sustainability and earning forex for the country.

Jill Whyte, chairperson of Green Farms Nut Company (GFNC), has raked in two awards over the past few months, first as the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Mpumalanga Female Exporter of the Year, and second, in conjunction with her husband Alan as the Agricultural Writers SA (AWSA) Farmer of the Year for Limpopo province.

Aligned to her quest and dedication to support the long-term sustainability of the macadamia industry and agricultural sector in South Africa, Jill has taken the decision to invest her winnings of R150 000 into initiatives geared to support education in agriculture.

“I fundamentally believe the agricultural sector is a key cornerstone to solving unemployment in South Africa,” she said. “There is no shortage of land, but there is a shortage of finance and skills. The sector’s long-term growth and sustainability relies on increasing its skills base. We have the opportunity of land resource in our country; we have to ensure we utilise this wisely over time.”

Established nearly 30 years ago, with humble beginnings and big vision, GFNC and its farms employ more than 1000 people in rural areas. It has grown from processing 80 tons in a small factory in White River to currently handling 25% (16 000 tons) of South Africa’s crop in three factories across the key growing regions of Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

The organisation earns significant foreign currency for South Africa that filters through the whole macadamia industry. Alongside continued rise in global demand for macadamias, there is room to grow within the sector, not only at production level, but also in creating value-add products within the broader supply chain.

“My exposure to other entrepreneurs at the DAFF awards was inspiring, and a wonderful reminder that, as in my case, small enterprises with great ideas can grow,” added Jill, who won runner-up in the export category at the national event. “Each participant in the awards programme is making a difference and a valued contribution to our society. Our Mpumalanga contingent, represented at the national Awards in Cape Town, had a superb sense of camaraderie.”

Uplifting communities

Alan Whyte.

Alan Whyte.

During the AWSA Farmer of the Year event, the Whytes were commended for their contribution to transformation efforts and building a workforce of skilled leaders from previously disadvantaged backgrounds on their farm Springfield in Levubu.

Providing a platform for the creation of a new generation of farmers, Springfield Farm has invested in learnerships for its workers, has an open door policy for agricultural students needing destinations to complete their practical training, and offers mentorships to emerging farmers.

The Whytes believe in an inclusive macadamia industry and use the uplifting power of macadamias to develop communities. In 2008, GFNC invested R1.25 million in establishing the 15 farmer, 108 hectare Vhembe Farms (Pty) Ltd., a joint venture with Vhembe Farmers Co-op. GFNC continues to support the Vhembe co-op with technical support and donor sourcing.  GFNC is also a proud partner in the successful East Cape Macadamia projects in the former Transkei region (Eastern Cape).

Springfield has set up a permanent classroom on the farm and has a full time lecturer from AgriSeta accredited training company Siyafundisa to do the training. Each year about 20 students are selected and put through courses ranging from life skills to basic agricultural skills and growing crops. The courses give them an understanding of what they are doing on the farm and why. Understanding these principles ensures they are more effective in their jobs.

Alan notes that while the benefits of offering such programmes are not always measurable, there is a general improvement in labour relations and the attitude of the workers. “From the workers’ point of view, they then, at least, have a piece of paper showing they have completed training and have farming experience, which adds to their employability.”

The Whytes have also donated macadamia trees and irrigation pipes to farmers in Venda to kickstart their macadamia farms. Springfield managers regularly visit the farms to offer advice and ensure everything is on track.

Emerging farmer workshops are held at both GFNC and Springfield, to give farmers a full understanding of a macadamia farming operation.

The gatherings hosted at the factories throughout the year are well attended, highly valued sessions where emerging macadamia nut farmers gather to share their learnings and best practice.

The events also see credible, relevant keynote speakers share knowledge and information around developing a sustainable and profitable macadamia nut farming operation.

Alan noted the importance of giving not only students an opportunity to experience a working farm, but also emerging farmers. The farm therefore started hosting annual farmers’ days for emerging farmers where knowledge and experiences are shared. “We make our resources available and our farm managers do presentations on farming practices. It is also vital to get the farmers into operating orchards so they can see first-hand what should be done.”

He said they are delighted that people are staying in the rural areas to work on farms rather than migrating to the cities, and so it is important to look after them.