The tobacco farming industry is faced with challenges such as the regulation of the use of tobacco by the Department of Health, as well the ongoing threat of an illicit market. Despite this, Limpopo tobacco farmer Erasmus Sefoloshe says there is opportunity for growth as the sector offers sustainable solutions and support. Siyanda Sishuba reports.
Erasmus Sefoloshe, who owns Erasmus Senne Sefoloshe Farm, grew up on a family farm near Tafelkop in Limpopo. There he learnt the basics of agriculture from his father, who farmed vegetables and livestock. After completing his studies in agriculture at the University of Limpopo in 1997, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.
His search for land led him to collaborate with other farmers from the area. Together, they were given access to a communal farm in Groblersdal by the Department of Public Works.
“We entered a lease agreement with an option to buy. At that stage, the land was still situated in Mpumalanga, but this area was later demarcated to fall within Limpopo. When this happened, the lease agreement fell away and we were told by officials to continue using the land without any formal lease agreement in place.”
At the time, they were told they would eventually be given title deeds to the land, but all they have received are promissory letters stating intent to transfer title for the land to the farmers.
Together with the farmers with whom he is sharing the farm, Sefoloshe has formed a co-operative called the Tafelkop Farmers’ Association. This consists of 32 farmers, including 14 tobacco farmers, who share 188ha. Sofoloshe himself farms on 5,25ha.
The farmers have several offtake agreements in place for their vegetables and other produce.
All tobacco is delivered to Limpopo Tobacco Processors.
Sefoloshe says working together as communal farmers allows them to assist each other to be able to produce optimally and meet market demand.
As a community, they also share farming equipment.
“Farming next to each other, it’s important to work together because of the challenges, such as diseases, that we face. We’ve arranged to meet every three weeks to discuss any new developments on the farm,” he says.
In the beginning, the farmers were focused mainly on vegetable farming, but they were later introduced to tobacco by a neighbouring commercial farmer, Joby Graham.
“As we were still learning, we didn’t have drying and processing facilities, but Joby would buy our produce after harvest,” Sefoloshe recalls.
This arrangement lasted for three years, but due to a water supply problem, the farmers had to stop producing for a while. By the time they were ready to start again, Graham was no longer farming in the area.
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