Emseni Farming was started to support the missionary work of Reverend Erlo Stegen and uplift the local Zulu community. It started small, but today it is situated on a 550-hectare farm between Stanger and Greytown in Kranskop, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), at the edge of the Tugela River and the valley of a thousand hills. Emseni provides jobs for the community and is now known as one of the biggest greenhouse bell pepper producers in South Africa.
The Kranskop community, an area with limited job opportunities, rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. The Emseni farming projects are the source of their income. It provides employment opportunities, economic development, and food security. The diversified farming involves a wide range of agricultural activities, which include a water bottling plant, beekeeping, fruit cultivation and many others. They also use peaceful and environmentally friendly methods in their farming activities. The reach and diversification of projects Emseni have dealt with over years make it stand out from the rest.
Farming turning into a business
The hectares of greenhouses on Emseni (meaning place of grace in Zulu) are a sight to see! What started as small vegetable gardens meant to feed crowds of churchgoers turned into hectares and hectares of beautiful, hydroponically grown bell peppers (and lettuce) without pesticides, now run as a business.
The pepper farming has had humble beginnings in tunnels in 1983; and today the peppers are grown hydroponically in high-tech greenhouses on 11.5 hectares. They produce 2 500 tons and supply the main supermarket chains with peppers, which include the types, Bell Peppers (green, red, yellow, orange) and Conical Peppers.
The agricultural projects are characterised by pioneer exploitation rather than settled cultivation. Fifty years ago, the farm consisted of virgin land with hectares of wattle plantations. The lack of infrastructure such as electricity and running water, and few job opportunities, made it complicated for the locals to earn a decent living or farm successfully to provide for their needs. The community also had limited knowledge about how to farm and they were far away from the cities. The locals have always been encouraged to grow their own vegetables and other food crops, even if it is only on a small scale. Over the years the farmers have been making the most of Mother Nature and “used what they have”.
The avocado project is also a sight to see. Currently, 170 hectares are under trees, with a total of 51 000 trees. More than 2 100 tons are produced annually and 60 to 70 % of produce is exported. Types of avocados include Hass, Pinkerton, Ryan, Fuertes, Ringtone and Lamb.
Local community members are taught how to grow avocados on the farm. Emseni believes in farmer-to-farmer learning and therefore on-farm practical demonstrations are done in sustainable agriculture along with free practical workshops. In this way the community is assisted to make use of the available land and they are given seedlings also. Because they realized that the movement of pollen between plants is necessary for plants to fertilize and reproduces, they set up beehives among the avocado trees to improve pollination and produce avocado flower-based honey.
They are now making compost on the farm. The compost comprises organic waste from the mission (situated on the farm) and waste obtained from the greenhouses on the farm. The waste includes old coir bags pruning waste; old plants which are removed annually; wood chips; cow waste from the Emseni dairy and other farms; and hay. The composting process is managed carefully to produce the optimal balance of temperature, moisture, and air for breaking down the material and killing harmful pathogens and weed seeds. The result of the compost is used back into the farm, mainly in the avocado orchards, and helps to improve the soil structure.
The economic impact of the Emseni farming projects
Globally, food security is facing some daunting challenges. Africa is one of the world’s most poverty-stricken continents where farmers are crucial for food security. Emseni has impacted their communities to ensure food security. The economic impact of their agricultural projects is enormous. It is community-based operations and with the diversified farming projects Emseni is the biggest employer in the immediate area.
Job opportunities in the area are hard to come by, so the diversified Emseni farming projects are like a beacon of light for the communities. The workers earn an honest living through these projects. It has provided opportunities for community members to earn money so they can support their families with dignity. Because of the nature of the companies which runs the various operations, their marketing campaigns and outreach events frequently have local participation that directly benefits the communities.
With the revenue generated from these businesses, Emseni has been able to expand its operation to assist more people and finance its outreach and missionary programmes.
The social impact of Emseni
As a community-based business, one of their core values and focus is the upliftment of and support to rural communities. Emseni sponsors many community and sporting events throughout the country through their other business operations. The outreach programmes include local feeding schemes for orphaned children, an HIV/Aids care centre, and a broad spectrum of community projects such as the recent food and water distribution programme to distressed communities after the recent unrest.
Emseni and its people are continuously paying it forward for the benefit of the community they serve. The community is actively involved in the development of the farm and its many projects. The farmers and its communities have been working together for many years to bring upliftment and to change lives for the better. The various farming projects ensure various income streams that benefit the community directly.
What also stands out at Emseni is the founder’s strong belief that labour can achieve its highest potential if farm workers are educated. Over years, through hard work and dedication, he has developed small holder and emerging farmers one step at a time. Emseni and its people show us how we can do so much more to build strong communities if we work together!