Together with its partners (Boeing, South African Airways and SkyNRG), Sunchem came to Moumo’s attention when it successfully undertook Africa’s first biofuel flight in 2016. Moumo has since partnered with Sunchem to investigate the possibility of farming Solaris on RBN land with the aim of diversifying RBN’s reliance on mining. Through this partnership, Sunchem and Moumo have initiated a pilot project to assess the potential of commercially cultivating this tobacco variety in the Royal Bafokeng community. The pilot project includes the employment of local farmers who will be trained in all aspects of growing Solaris.
Moumo’s mandate is to create economic development on RBN land for the RBN Community. If the Solaris pilot proves effective and the project is scaled to a commercial level, it could prove an immensely productive use of RBN land. Farming Solaris will also create jobs, opportunities to manufacture animal feed and many other indirect opportunities for Bafokeng farmers. The project has synergies with other Moumo farming projects (such as the cattle farming project) and is well aligned with RBN’s Plan 35.
“We at Sunchem believe that Solaris can be a valuable contribution to the Vision for 2035 of the Royal Bafokeng Nation,” says Samantha Hampton, who heads up Business Development and Sustainability at Sunchem. “The introduction of Solaris has the potential of an increased output due to its higher seed and biomass yield compared to soy and sunflower. The oil is a feed ingredient or can be converted to biodiesel to increase sustainability of the mining industry. The press cake and biomass have a feed purpose.”
Mr Motswe, who is a sunflower farmer and part of the pilot project, believes the Solaris Project is a golden opportunity for the community. “There is great potential in growing this crop,” he says. “I am hoping to hear from Moumo in the next few months that I can go ahead and plant more hectares.”
Mr Gift Kanengoni, a farm manager working for Modiegi Tumagole, one of the other farmers involved in the pilot project, agrees. “This is a good opportunity to develop my farming skills and that of my colleagues. That knowledge gained is invaluable. Tobacco is a simple crop to grow. We are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the pilot and we want to work towards vast goals for this region.”
Setting up the pilot project
Although Solaris seems to be an ideal crop for the Phokeng and greater North West region, implementing the pilot project has not been plain sailing. Nevertheless, the challenges have been addressed through committed partnership. All parties involved are optimistic about the viability of growing the Solaris Project into a commercial venture in the long term.
Mrs Tumisang Njikelane is the Moumo representative working with the farmers and Sunchem to manage the project locally. She was previously an agricultural advisor to RBN, which meant she is well-placed to identify farmers to take part in the pilot project. She explains that both dry and irrigated lands were targeted to ascertain the viability of the project, given that Phokeng is known as a water scarce area.
The pilot project commenced in Oct 2018 and should be completed by the end of March 2019. It has been a challenging journey with numerous obstacles. One of the challenges has been ensuring the right equipment has been available where it’s needed, when it’s needed, given the locations of the farms. The strong collaborative efforts between Sunchem, Moumo and the farmers have enabled the project to maintain continuity.
Another challenge has been timing. Mr Motswe says that farming Solaris on dry land proved challenging and that his first crop failed on the back of the drought in the region. He planted a second crop near Groot Marico, which has been successful.
Mr Kanengoni, who has managed crops of onions, spinach and other vegetables previously, says that Tumagole’s tobacco crop also took a beating thanks to an intense hail storm in December 2018, but thankfully it survived and is currently thriving. He notes that Sunchem has provided much needed mentoring on managing the Solaris crops, and that it is the simplest crop he’s ever farmed.
Moumo ensured that the funding for the project was spent in the local community, resulting in 27 work opportunities being created within the pilot project. With their training in growing the Solaris crop, the participating farmers are now well placed for the commercial phase of the project.
Scaling the project
If all goes according to plan and the pilot is declared a success, Moumo and Sunchem will identify various areas suitable to grow Solaris on a commercial scale.
As some of the Impala mining shafts are closed and handed back to RBN, the idea is to divert the water and land from these shafts to farm Solaris. In the long term, the aim is to establish an agricultural processing hub in the region, creating jobs and economic opportunities. Sunchem, together with the Dutch Good Growth Fund, are interested in funding this commercial rollout.
The pilot project will also be showcased at an event hosted by Sunchem and Moumo together with the Dutch Ambassador and visitors from the Dutch funders on 26 February.
Njikelane says that as the project scales, Moumo will begin to approach additional farmers who meet project criteria to join the programme. “We’ll be looking for people with land and access to water, who are committed and passionate about farming” she says.