Farm workers cooperate to start their own operation

Retrenched group receive shot in arm from eThekwini

Farmworkers at the Cato Ridge Chicken Farm with eThekwini Municipality Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.
Farmworkers at the Cato Ridge Chicken Farm with eThekwini Municipality Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.
Image: Vukuzenzele

Retrenched poultry farm workers in KwaZulu-Natal have formed a poultry cooperative after finding themselves without any means to make a living following the closure of farms they worked on.

The Cato Ridge Chicken Farm in Hammarsdale has inspired many farmworkers to use the skills they learnt when they were employed to start their own business.

The workers were left jobless in 2017 when RCL Foods, which owns Rainbow Chickens, sold 15 of its 25 farms. This resulted in a loss of 1,350 jobs. Of these workers, 129 formed Isukile Agricultural Cooperative, which started operating in December 2020.

The cooperative has just sold its first batch of 7,500 chickens, and has enough space to expand to housing 34,000 chicks at a time, according to Isukile member Nonhle Mdunge.

“We supply our chickens to informal traders in our community and in Pietermaritzburg and surrounding communities. We want to expand as there are stores and restaurants that want big orders, but we can’t meet the demand,” she says.

Realising the cooperative’s potential, eThekwini municipality stepped in. Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda says the municipality supports agriculture and associated industries to fight job losses and unemployment.

“The municipality could not sit back and fold its arms while several families lost their livelihoods,” Kaunda said, explaining his municipality's involvement in Isikule venture.

The municipality plans to develop the farm into an agri-park incubator, which will create 103 jobs. It also wants to start a sheep-farming operation to create opportunities for about 48 small, medium and micro enterprises.

The sheep unit installation began this month and should be complete by July.

“In the first phase, four sheep units will operate, accommodating 1,000 sheep each. The first phase will create about 16 jobs,” says  Kaunda.

The municipality and the KZN department of economic development, tourism and environmental affairs have invested about R1m to assist the cooperative with facilities and tools, and R4m to buy a farm.

- This story first appeared in GCIS-Vukuzenzele

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