Great Karoo – With 325 Angora goats, 60 Dorper sheep and a hay field, Jan Loff and seven co-owners of the Swartrivier farm in the Great Karoo are operating a viable agricultural concern as part of the national land reform initiative.
When Swartrivier, registered as Wolwekraal 211, was bought by the government, the new owners were determined to prove they could succeed in creating a livelihood and employment for eight families.
In 2009 the 3643ha were bought with no permanent farm workers – only a young farmhand.
Fast-forward 10 years and the farm has a carrying capacity of 45ha/LSU (large-stock unit), six camps that can accommodate 325 breeding Angora ewes and 10 rams (this year shearing 125 small goats, 169 ewes and 36 kapaters).
It employs four shearers, four assistant shearers, one classer, three casuals and two agricultural students, one from the Potchefstroom College of Agriculture and the other from Lovedale Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College in King William’s Town.
“The farm was acquired as a PLAS (proactive land acquisition strategy) project to provide black farmers with productive land in Prince Albert.
“The acquisition of this property assisted in the transformation of land ownership and economic development,” said Vuyani Nkasayi, deputy director of communications in the national Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, who visited the farm last week with Tabisa Mashiyi, assistant director, and Gaynore de Jager, project co-ordinator, from Beaufort West.
According to Nkasayi, the land was awarded to the beneficiaries before the implementation of the State Land Lease and Disposal Policy of 2013, and before a beneficiary selection committee was in place.
“No beneficiary selection process was conducted. It was presented to the district land reform committee on March 14, 2018 and supported for land allocation. The department awarded recapitalisation and development funds to the project to assist with livestock, implements and infrastructure upgrade. The farmers formed a new entity called Wolwekraal Boerdery. The eight families have occupied the land since the acquisition in 2009.”
Nkasayi said the government had invested R5million in the project and it was working well.
“The farm is doing its part in job creation and skills development. We are offering assistance, in the form of formal courses, but these farmers have to manage the land themselves.”
In the past few years the owners gradually changed from mainly sheep to Angora farming because mohair earns more in Port Elizabeth, where it is taken to be sold overseas.
“The bokkies don’t place a heavy burden on the veld like sheep, especially now in a time of extreme drought”, Loff said.
The drought, which has become more severe in the past four years, was their biggest challenge, he added.
“In January we didn’t have a drop of rain – usually a month with fair rainfall. However, we have learnt to do thorough drought planning. We are surviving and determined to get through this disaster.
“We brainstorm with other farmers in the area, exchanging ideas and advice. The government helps with drought relief, but for the rest we are on our own.”
According to one of the shearers, Hendrik Afrika, 68, twice a year he and the rest of the team work on farms in the district, known for its excellent mohair quality.
“I have been in the trade for more than 40 years. It gets easier over time, because you learn how to hold the animals to keep them calm, to prevent cuts. To them, shedding hair is a great relief in this heat.”
Afrika said each of these professionals shears, on average, 30 sheep daily in season. This had helped turn Swartrivier into a viable concern.
Farming in the Great Karoo, especially in a time of a natural disaster, is no joke, Loff conceded. “But, with the right attitude, success is possible,” he said.