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Jakoba Linnerts, Sara Willemse, Ellouise Volmink And Ricardo Volmink


Introducing the four farming musketeers. And Plan B. Plan A at Doornkloof started in 2008 when a group of beneficiaries, Pepsico and Christof Cloete (the mentor) from Rietvlei Boerdery came together. The mission was to establish Doornkloof as a BEE transformation stone fruit farm. But although Plan A had great intentions, it did not come together. Gerrit Rautenbach investigated. 

Driving from Laingsburg towards the Seweweekspoort you are in dry, rough Karoo country. Red rugged contours and cliffs align the road. Suddenly, you see a green patch in the distance, lush stone fruit tree orchards like an oasis. This patch is Doornkloof, the farm that Pepsico bought for R3,8 million in 2008. Their plan was then for a group of beneficiaries to – together with Rietvlei Boerdery’s Christof Cloete as a mentor – create a profitable transformation farm. They thus formed a farming company with 51% owned by the beneficiaries and 49% by Rietvlei.

Maybe it was an unbalanced structure, severe droughts lasting all but seven years, too many cooks, whatever, but although the 40-ha farm produced good peaches and apricots for drying and juice, the business did not go forward. There came a time when Pepsico had to put a halt on the production loans while the original loan to purchase was just accumulating interest. In 2015 almost all of the beneficiaries pulled out of the project—all but the four musketeers, Ricardo and Ellouise Volmink, Sara Willemse and Jakoba Linnerts.

At that stage, they owned 51% with Rietvlei Boerdery still at 49%. In late 2021 Christof Cloete, the mentor, made a call and said that they should sell the farm and take what they could get as the project was not profitable at all. The fab four dug their heels in.

“I grew up on this farm. My parents were workers here. My roots are here. This is what I know. I was not going to give it up for anything. At first, we were a bit in the dark, but now, with the new plan with Hortgro, the Department of Agriculture Western Cape and always Pepsico, we are getting more and more insight,” says Ricardo, the orchard and technical manager.

“Our family moved around a lot in this area, but in 2008 we got stuck on Doornkloof and I started working as a general worker. Suddenly this was home. I was not going to let that go. At one stage, for about three months, we had nothing on this farm. No wages and salaries and no food for ourselves, but then Pepsico helped us out. Now things are beginning to look better. We want to make this farm a success,” explains Jakoba Linnerts, the weed control specialist at Doornkloof.

“This farm is the place where I was born,” says Sara the irrigation fundi, “this is me, this is my place, my future. I’ll do whatever it takes to survive here. No, to prosper here.”

“After school, I started working on the farm as a general worker. In 2008, when the empowerment farm was created, I was at first not part of it as most of the beneficiaries were not from Doornkloof, but from Christof’s farm. When they all later pulled out of the project, I realised there was a chance to build something bigger than just doing general work. When they later came and told us we must sell the farm, we just said no, we want a fair chance to go on!” replies Ellouise, the administration manager.

With this kind of resilience, Christof decided to sign his shares over to the group of four, not expecting any compensation at this stage, but just getting out. Doornkloof now belonged 100% to the four musketeers. So did all the debt of around R10 million.

Introducing Plan B

It came in the form of a powerful partnership between the private and public sectors. Earlier this year the Western Cape Department of Agriculture informed Hortgro about the desperate situation Doornkloof was in. Through the WCDoA their comprehensive agricultural support programme looked at grants as part of the agreement that Hortgro has to implement funding and provide additional support in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture through the CPAC process.   It was a rough start for instance, their electricity was cut, and Government may not repay old debt, so Hortgro footed that bill to enable them to irrigate. In June, Hortgro and various industry role players, Frederick Mpona, Vianca Erasmus and Michael Oerson of the Department went for a site visit.

Along with them, Pepsico, still believing in Doornkloof’s potential, stayed on board not wanting to see it going belly-up by providing technical assistance and advice as well as market outlets for products. Although they did not offer new loans or grants, they decided to write off two major production loans to the value of just short of R4 million. Only the original purchase loan plus some interest was left, but they are not putting pressure on the owners to start paying back in the immediate future.

This write-off was on the understanding that Hortgro and the Department come to the fore with financial assistance. Through a comprehensive agricultural support programme (CASP) Hortgro and the Department came to the party with a combined grant package of R4,4 million of which R3,3 million was immediately available for emergency production salvation to ensure a decent yield for this year. The balance of the grant is earmarked to establish proper infrastructures in 2023.

So, from a production point of view the four musketeers seemed to be sorted now, but from an aspect of managing Doornkloof as a business, there might be a shortfall. However, the four beneficiaries have quite a lot to say about that.

 “This farm is a good farm with potential. If it is managed properly, it can be very successful. The four of us are great on the production side, but up until now, we were never part of the management process. We weren’t informed what was going on with the farm on the financial side … We did not learn anything about the bigger picture of management and were not involved in the process. If we can learn the skills of management, Doornkloof will become a prosperous transformation farm,” comments Ellouise.

Michael Oerson, Senior Agricultural Advisor in Laingsburg for the Department of Agriculture Western Cape agrees: “In 2021 we got involved in this project, with various applications to the CASP program. In 2022 it was approved, and the funds were transferred to Hortgro. With all these jigsaw pieces in places, Doornkloof can now work.”

The four musketeers believe they can and will make it and are looking forward to the future. Together with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture and Hortgro. All in partnership. All in cahoots. All for one, and all for one.

Caption: Doornkloof’s vasbyters! From left, Jakoba Linnerts, Sara Willemse, Ellouise Volmink and Ricardo Volmink.


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