MASDT: Mobile Agricultural Skills Development and Training
MASDT was established in 2005 as a Training Service Provider in the Agriculture Sector in Mpumalanga, South Africa, but changed to a Non Profit Company (NPC), incorporated in terms of Section 21 of the Companies Act in 2007. The organization has diversified from merely a training providing institution to become a “One Stop Centre” for Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SME’s) in the Agricultural Sector. MASDT provides a comprehensive and integrated range of support services in agriculture to emerging farmers located in often remote rural areas. MASDT aims to develop emerging farmers over a three year incubation period to the point where they can sustainably generate both income and employment from their agricultural businesses. MASDT is mobile; instead of expecting the rural poor to travel to education centers in towns and cities, MASDT brings the training as well as support services to the farm gates. In this way, MASDT creates space for practical learning on the emerging farmers’ land. “We take our own private further education and training (FET) college to the rural areas so that the emerging farmers can continue with production while on the formal learning program” (L Bezuidenhout: MASDT CEO; 2013).
The personal background and formal education of the MD, Lynette Bezuidenhout, made her choose this unique model although expensive and difficult to manage. Lynette grew up in the rural parts of the Northern Cape Province where her Dad was an Afrikaner stud farmer. The embedded knowledge of growing up on a farm, drove her to implement the virtual incubation concept in agricultural development. Under her leadership the past 4 years, the Grant income of the Company grew from R3million to almost R18million.
Accreditations and Achievements
MASDT was awarded “Best Performing Incubator of the Year 2012” in South Africa. Each year Seda (Small Enterprise Development Agency) a member of DTI, honors business incubation, technology transfer and quality interventions/organizations, clients and graduates that exemplify the best of the industry. MASDT also received a Productivity SA Award for outstanding services in the Public Sector for 2014.
In all projects MASDT begins with research into the needs of the potential partners as well as into the geophysical conditions and natural resources available to the project. This profiling helps MASDT and the project partners prioritize areas of support needed as well as the types of agricultural commodities to be produced. Proximity to markets as well as value added opportunities are also considered as part of this inception phase. In all projects MASDT enters into either an incubator agreement or a memorandum of agreement between itself and the project partners so that all parties are clear about the project goals, objectives, scope, financial and staffing implications as well as general protocols for cooperation and communication. MASDT relies on both qualitative information gained through interviews and a range of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) techniques to understand the project partners’ needs and institutional dynamics as well as primary and secondary quantitative research, such as soil samples, water testing as well as reference to secondary material to determine the agricultural potential of the project properties. MASDT does extensive consultation with project partners on key issues such as procurement of equipment, planning of production, finance and marketing strategies. MASDT is committed to gender empowerment and focuses on involving youth in agriculture through outreach programs.
MASDT has worked on the following projects over the past five years:
Agri Incubation: Seda has been funded this program for the past 6 years in Mpumalanga. Incubatees receive both training and development in agricultural production whilst having the support of an MASDT Business Development Officer (BDO) who visits their projects on a biweekly basis to provide the project partners with extension advice, farm planning and marketing expertise. Currently MASDT supports 178 crop farmers and 20 livestock farmers through a comprehensive 3 year incubation process to impart the necessary skills and experience to enable these farmers to make a sustainable living from their lands and other natural resources. 190 permanent jobs was created by our Incubatees during the 2013/14 financial year.
Umzinyathi District Council: Umzinyathi incubator was situated in Dundee, in the District Municipality of Umzinyathi, in the region between Dundee and Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal, was established in 2008 and terminated September 2013. 46 Emerging farmers were all involved in commercial crop production for supply to the local markets. The District Municipality funded this project, but due to budget constraints, could not sustain the project.
Mixed Farming Incubation: MASDT is managing the production of Sun Cured Virginia Tobacco and food crops by small scale growers with financial support from British American Tobacco (BAT- South Africa). This project is now in it’s 4th year. MASDT receives funds from BAT-SA to provide skills development, mentorship as well as production support (input costs and mechanisation) to small scale tobacco farmers in Buffelspruit (Nkomazi), Badplaas, Grobblersdal, Venda, Skuinsdrift and Oudshoorn. These emerging farmers sell their tobacco with the assistance of MASDT to Limpopo Tobacco Processors (LTP) as part of a larger project to replace the import of filler tobacco from Mexico. The provision of both input costs (in the form of a production loan) as well as a guaranteed market greatly assist these emerging farmers to secure employment and a livelihood from this project. BAT SA financially assisted in the production of 113ha of SCV tobacco, 60ha of maize and 13ha of bean production within the 6 areas for 2013/14 season. 88 Full time emerging tobacco farmers and 796 part time jobs through maize and bean production (SED grants from BAT) contribute to around 5000 indirect beneficiaries.
MASDT ESKOM Agri Incubator: Five large commercially orientated project owned by community based entities are supported through this incubator through skills development, mentorship, provision of equipment, market support and value added activities. This project is both geographically diverse (operating in three provinces) and includes a wide range of commodities including nuts, citrus, poultry, cattle, grain production, timber, fruit and vegetable production.
Land Reform Project Mentorship Support: MASDT has been contracted by the Department for Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) to provide mentorship and business support to six land reform projects in Mpumalanga Province and 6 project in the Tzaneen district.
NDA Production Project: MASDT is financially supported by National Development Agency to assist emerging farmers in both Nkomazi Local Municipality and Bushbuckridge Local Municipality, Mpumalanga Province to produce tomatoes and butternuts. Farmers were given funds for production inputs and infrastructure as per the recommendations of the assessing officers of MASDT. MASDT is responsible for the management, mentoring and trainings in the project and will provide markets for the farmers over a period three years (2014 – 2017).
Skills Development and Training: As an accredited FET college and training service provider MASDT conducts various skills development and training programmes with emerging farmers, community groups and commercial farmers to develop their governance and production skills and to contribute towards occupational health and safety.
Learnerships and bursaries: MASDT has facilitated various agricultural learnerships for emerging farmers through the AgriSETA. These learnerships, lasting ten months, combine formal skills development with a strong practical component to the course.
MASDT is led by a Managing Director, Ms Lynette Bezuidenhout, who is accountable to the MASDT Board of Directors and leads a staff component of 30 full time professionals as well as contract staff in other Provinces. The company operates from a main office space (±300m2) in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga Province with all the necessary office facilities, electronic communication systems, Internet and Intranet facilities, a Board room and training facilities. Permanent staff include business development officers (BD)) who liaise directly with the project partners. BDO’s typically have agricultural qualifications and gain additional skills and expertise in house. MASDT has its own agricultural economist to undertake business planning, project managers to manage programmes on its behalf and internal support and administrative staff. MASDT has a procurement officer who secures the best prices for various agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizer, as well as services such as borehole testing, soil samples etc. MASDT’s Fleet and IT manager ensures that project partners receive the required mechanization support, such as tractors, trailers, disks so that they can plant and harvest crops in time. All the fleet vehicles and tractors are fitted with tracker systems to ensure good electronic management and governance from the office. MASDT has a training Co-ordinator and training officers to undertake training and skills development with various experts assisting the organisation to develop training material and courses. MASDT also has a wide range of mentors, agricultural specialists and other service providers that it can rely on to give expert inputs on specific technical aspects of farming as the need arises.
MASDT Mobile Laboratory
MASDT, with the financial assistance of Seda, acquired a 20 metre Scania truck, custom-build an agriculture laboratory with training facilities and high-tech electronic equipment to provide services to rural areas. Two high-definition television screens on the outside of the truck relay what is going on inside, and all laboratory equipment, bar air conditioners, are run with solar power. Commercial farming in South Africa, as in any other country in the world, is a precise discipline that involves the management of a wide range of variables both physical such as natural resources as well as the socio- economic such as market volatility and consumer preferences. By having a mobile facility that can assist emerging farmers understand more clearly their natural resource base, particularly soils and water, MASDT is taking a lot of the guess work and hence risk out of the equation. Fixed facilities that provide such services, but these are expensive, geographically distant from the rural communities, who are MASDT’s clients and have long turnaround times- particularly if samples must be posted or couriered. By having a mobile facility MASDT can bring the appropriate technology to the field where it is needed most. In essence therefore the Mobile Laboratory complements the already existing services of MASDT (Business support, agricultural planning, skills development, mentorship, mechanization support and supply of agricultural inputs). The Mobile Lab is also fitted with a training room which will be utilised in training emerging farmer groups and even remote rural youth in introducing agriculture science to them. Training in light engineering and maintenance will also be conducted by the Truck Driver who has years’ experience as a mechanic.
MASDT has a fleet of vehicles (Bakkies) to visit projects as well as to deliver inputs such as seedlings or equipment. MASDT has various tractors and implements located at the different project sites, so that emerging farmers can gain advantage from the use of mechanization on their farms at an affordable rate- e.g. MASDT is preparing lands at R 800.00/ha (Plough, disk and ridge) whilst commercial service providers are charging up to R 2000.00 for the same service.
Rural Enterprise Development: Small Businesses, Cooperatives and Industries
MASDT’s approach to supporting emerging farmers whether individually or as a collective (Co-operative, Pty Ltd, Trust or CPA) is based on the understanding that support has to be comprehensive and integrated to be effective. As such the incubator approach has been deemed the most relevant as this provides participants (Incubatees) with formal and practical skills development, practical support and inputs required to farm commercially. Value adding and market development are furthermore integral to the incubator approach. MASDT facilitates the procurement and delivery of farm inputs as well as mechanization to emerging farmers on a cost recovery basis so the benefits of bulk purchases and discounts are passed on to the emerging farmer groups. MASDT is currently working with various commodity organisations in terms of agricultural production and can assist emerging farmers to make formal contractual supply agreements with various wholesalers and buyers in the agricultural sector. MASDT developed a program to empower Leadership and assist in developing Co-operative constitutions and can advise and assist in terms of the development of legal entities, constitutions, farm rules, Human Resource and Financial Policies relevant to land reform beneficiary communities
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