Dairy milking all over the world is difficult. It is an aspect of agriculture that is born out of an intense labour of love. The hours are long, and it is a complicated process. The links of the chain from pasture to parlour to producer are intricate. A detailed systematic approach needs to be balanced with enough flexibility to allow unforeseen circumstances to be managed with minimum negative effect.
The practice of sharemilking started in New Zealand many decades ago. It is a most excellent example of collaboration. An agreement that can yield huge benefit for both the farm owner and the sharemilker. An interesting anecdote is a day marked on the New Zealand calendar for the movement of both farm workers and herds. 1st June is known as Gypsy Day.
There are various types of sharemilking but in its essence the partnership comes down to the following:
The farm owner typically provides the infrastructure required for dairy farming, and the sharemilker provides the physical labour, management skills and some of the assets or livestock required to operate the farm.
South Africa follows the New Zealand model of sharemilking. Given our historical context, sharemilking is a practice that while enabling the growth of emerging farmers, is also able to address past social injustices.
The benefits are mutual and go beyond the sharing of just resources and expertise. The term Corporate Social Responsibility is often thrown around board room tables and sometimes it is hard to create real results with on the ground actions. South Africa has an overly complex past with many variables and real change is taking time. It is often hard to meet all expectations and needs.
But in the dairy farming industry and in the practice of sharemilking there is potential for not only economic growth but systemic change.
A South African study
An interesting study in this regard was conducted by JD Strydom, an MA student at Pretoria University in 2016.
It is entitled Sharemilking as an alternative business model for the successful establishment of black dairy farmers in South Africa.
The findings from the study confirmed with positive effect the strength of sharemilking or shar farming as Strydom terms the practice to build the black owned farm sector of the dairy industry. It is interesting to note the importance of South Africa as a continent-wide milk producer. Along with Sudan, Egypt and Kenya, South Africa produces 52 % of Africa’s milk. Although this study is four years old, it is still an impressive statistic.
Our future generations
Sustainable growth is another 21st century buzz term which has taken on more gravitas in the digital information age. As the millennial and Z generation aspire to a more organic centered lifestyle with less desire for material acquisition, the quest for knowledge around food production has been become much more apparent. Perhaps the generation raised in front of television who caught the first internet wave and negotiate every life aspect from a device in their hand are yearning to slow down. Trends such as veganism, the choice of entrepreneurship over company loyalty and financial investment in travel over property ownership would indicate so.
But social justice and therefore social development is an essential thread in the fabric of building a healthy and productive South Africa.
Linda Zwane’s story
An incredible story of empowerment in the agricultural sector, covered by Farmers Weekly in 2017, is that of Linda Zwane, a livestock farmer in Mpumalanga. In 2017 Zwane introduced 120 young black women to the world of livestock husbandry. From this incredible experience, collectives and co-operatives were born. Not only do inherited racial dynamics indicate ownership profiles, but farms tend to be male owned.
It is then very inspiring to hear what one of the students, Nelly Shezi, has to say,
“The co-operative is very good, because we work as a team. We bring up ideas, show each other things, and nobody is wrong. I wish that other young ladies could see that agriculture is good; it is perfect. It can change our lives. It can change the economy.”
In encouragement to other aspiring female farmers, Nelly says: “If you can push in agriculture, do it, because that is where the job opportunities are. If farming is what you like, then you really can do it!”
A sharemilking guideline
In 2015 the Milk Producers Organisation (MPO) in partnership with AgriConnect released a detailed sharemilking project guideline.
As JD Strydom’s dissertation details and this article’s closing quote from the MPO’s document illustrates, sharemilking is a successful method to equalise the dairy industry’s playing or should we say, pasture fields. The relationships are built on a foundation of mutual benefit and a generous recognition that we are stronger together than apart.
“There is also a high degree of interdependence between a landowner and a sharemilker, and this encourages both parties to have respect for each other. Apart from the land being 100% black-owned, professional management is retained and an environment is created for joint business decision-making, mentoring and training.”