Why agricultural study groups matter in South Africa

September 27, 2023
2 min read

At Agrigistics, we value the way in which every farmer takes a set of unique conditions presented to him and turns it into a lucrative business enterprise. Spending so much time in the field with farmers made us realise the power of community building where farmers share their knowledge and experience to the greater benefit of all.

Earlier this month, the Agrigistics team had the privilege of sponsoring the monthly Levubu avocado study group. We experienced first-hand how this group of farmers devise strategies to address industry-related challenges that may be common to the group or unique to a specific farmer’s operations; thereby helping each other in the process. Exactly what community building is all about, not true? Before sharing more details about the trip however, let’s first dive into what a study group is and why it matters.

What is a study group and why is it important for community building?

In the context of agri-communities, study groups are places where members such as growers, producers and other relevant parties come together to discuss industry-related challenges and strategies.1 Education and learning has the power to build capacity within a community: by sharing new knowledge and skills through interaction with industry ‘experts’ and fellow training participants.2 The purpose of study groups therefore is to create a platform where farmers can share information and resources for the purpose of farming and provide the opportunity to keep up with relevant trends in the market.

Levubu avocado study group

Situated in a sub-tropical fruit farming area, Levubu is one of two avocado production regions in the northern province of Limpopo. Due to its climate and its location in the fertile valley east to west along the Soutpansberg, the region is perfect for the growth of avocados resulting in the Limpopo province currently producing around 58% of the stock in South Africa. The conditions also support the growth of subtropical fruit such as litchis, and bananas as well as pecans and macadamia nuts, giving rise to several fruit and nut processing plants that operate in the area and produce nut oils, flour and dried fruit.3

It is also here where the highly effective Levubu study group is at work – a group of avocado farmers in the area that identified a need to share their knowledge and experience. Established in 1991, the group is now 41 years in operation and consists of more or less 20 farmers who meet on a monthly basis, each time on a different farm. The study group’s main aim is to gain knowledge and share best practice among the group members. By hosting the group at  a different venue each month, farmers can learn from the different orchards and techniques that their fellow farmers are using.

“Levubu Centre for Excellence” study group, 1 February 2022, Highlands farm, Levubu

With nearly a dozen farmers in the Hazyview area (about 300 km away) currently making use of our services, Agrigistics made use of the opportunity to sponsor one of the monthly study group meetings in the Levubu area on 1 February 2022. This time round, the meeting took place at Mark Kirk-Cohen’s farm, Highlands. It is with reason that Mark takes pride in his orchards of Avocado and Macadamia trees which, after 60 years, continue producing excellent quality avocados. After arriving, the attendees, all in good spirits, gathered at the farmhouse where Dylan Pope, chairman of the group, set the agenda for the meeting. Adding to the positive undertone, Elsje Joubert covered research projects currently underway in the area in her “Levubu Centre for Excellence” before Pope tackled some serious issues such as increasing chemical prices and fertilisers, and the rising price of diesel that negatively affect the input costs and profitability of farming operations. Then it was time for Agrigistics to present our system to the farmers.

Agrigistics’ involvement in study groups

Developing the business concept behind Agrigistics made us realise that not every farming operation is unique. Rather, every farmer has their unique way of farming. However, we also realised that farming communities in the same geographical area producing the same crops often have to deal with similar challenges that affect the health of their crops, confirming the value of education and learning by means of study groups. It was therefore a pleasure to discuss various aspects and individual approaches farmers use in running their farms as businesses.

It was not long before Toyota and Ford rivalries put their differences aside and all jumped onto the back of the bakkies, ice-cold beer in hand, for a field trip through Mark’s orchards. While driving through the orchards, the farmers discussed various topics. However, the topics generating the fiercest debate included plant spacing and trimming. Spacing and trimming affect both the trees’ access to sunlight and other resources that are needed for growth. Each farmer seemed to have their own opinion on the advantages and disadvantages and how these practices affect the eventual yield of their orchards. Therefore, due to a lack of hard facts available on the spot regarding plant dates, plant spacing and yields, a conclusion could unfortunately not be reached. Wouldn’t it be amazing if each farmer had immediate access to the Agrigistics app, with all that data at their fingertips and settled the debate once and for all? (Here’s looking at you Agrigistics)

After awarding an Agrigistics hamper to one lucky farmer, Jacques du Plessis from The Ultimate Lodge and with all the formalities out of the way, what better way to conclude the day than with some drinks and laughs around the braai?

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