Hortrgro’s newly formed Economic Development Committee is gearing up to take transformation in the deciduous fruit industry to new heights. These are interesting times. By Gerrit Rautenbach
Cynthia Mahlathi looks you square in the eye when talking to you. And that is good. She listens well and when in conversation, she gets to the point. She is friendly and her smile reaches her eyes.
With a B Agric (SU), Postgraduate Diploma in Project Management (SU) and Postgraduate Diploma in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (UWC), she’s got the right papers to back this new responsibility of Economic Development Manager (EDAC). But most of all, she’s got the passion and desire to get economic development in agriculture to work. Why agriculture?
“One year when I was still very young, it rained so much we couldn’t go anywhere, but still needed food. We worked a piece of land with spades and our hands, planting maize one pip at a time. When we eventually started harvesting beautiful maize, it was a valuable moment in my life realizing this is actually the work of my hands. From then on, I respected farmers, and it was good to know agriculture is not just seeing something packaged at the supermarket.”
However, she also realised that she was not meant to farm, but she knew what farmers needed to make a success of their farming. So, she embarked on project management at CASIDRA as well as learning as much as she could about land reform, land appropriation without compensation and the reality of farming in South Africa. She kept on asking where are we going in agriculture. After CASIDRA, she joined Hortfin where she fulfilled a project management and administration function.
She says she still wants to understand what the word transformation really means and reckons people sometimes use it quite loosely, but she joined EDAC because it focuses on economic development. That she understands. “I see myself as an enabler to get the farmers to access the resources that are there, be it from the government or private sector to become more established and sustainable. Even if I can help one out of 10 first-generation farmers to succeed, I will feel I’ve done something.”
You need a voice that speaks from the ground and a voice that speaks from the top, but you need to speak the same language.
She sees this job as an opportunity to combine resources from government and the private sector to offer stronger opportunities to enable farmers or producers in a much better way. The critical factor is that farmers need to get the combined resources needed, especially when it is to get better results. A huge grant or loan is of little use if it is granted too late.
“In a nutshell, I hope the role that I and EDAC will play will alleviate some of those challenges. You need a voice that speaks from the ground and a voice that speaks from the top, but you need to speak the same language. I hope to steer this alignment.”
Amongst her other attributes, Cynthia is also a realist. With a smile that reaches her eyes.
Welcome aboard, Cynthia.