Commercial farming can only be sustainable when it also uplifts workers and communities. So says Jan le Roux, director of the Le Roux Group, a socially responsible agricultural enterprise producing table grapes and stone fruit that has grown to employ 1000 people mostly from local communities, and another 5000 seasonal workers.

“Farming is not just a way of life; it is a profession. You wouldn’t call anyone who picks up a pair of scissors a barber and trust them to cut your hair, and when it comes to the workforce for agricultural operations it is the same,” says Jan, who was nominated for, and ultimately awarded, the 2021 Agricultural Writers SA Award for Farmer of the Year partly sponsored by Agility Agri and Health Squared Medical Scheme.

“Farming is essentially about making the most of what nature gives you and this is only possible with the right people who are appropriately skilled and experienced. As an organization that employs thousands of people, we have a responsibility to take what we do seriously as a mutual commitment, so that we can all benefit from growth together.”

Jan, an auditor by trade, explains that employees from historically disadvantaged groups are beneficiaries of the Le Roux Group Workers Trust. People living within 5km of Broodkraal, the largest of the Le Roux Group’s farming operations, are beneficiaries of the Broodkraal Community Foundation Trust. Collectively, workers and the community hold a 32% ownership stake in Broodkraal Landgoed (Pty) Ltd.

Le Roux Group award.

Agricultural economist Dr Kobus Laubscher commended the Le Roux Group on the growth it has achieved with this innovative inclusive model, which is broadening participation in agriculture. “This demonstrates that shared ownership can be a powerful motivator, as staff members gain a new perspective on the value of their input and the organization’s resources. Through this unique wealth sharing initiative, the Le Roux model is a working example of transformation within a community through correct beneficiation.

“The vision of a social compact such as the Agricultural and Agro-Processing Master Plan [AAMP] requires labour intensive, globally competitive operations to create employment and inclusive economic growth. Human capital can optimally contribute towards unlocking the sector’s increasingly important multiplier effects. Employers who support the health and financial wellbeing of their workforce by extension go a step further to also contribute to the wellbeing of surrounding communities and by so doing provide much needed growth catalysts,” consultant to Agility Agri, Dr Laubscher adds.

Agility Agri provides a fully integrated human capital risk management and employee benefit solution tailored to the specific requirements of South African agriculture and the industry’s entire value chain.

The Le Roux Group has developed its own in-house packing and cooling facilities for their grapes, nectarines and plums. “On our plum and nectarine farm, we built a separate large packhouse, which was busy accommodating our own needs for six months of the year. We have since started packing for the soft citrus industry, which has extended the productive period for packing to 10 months of the year, to the benefit of ‘seasonal’ workers,” Jan says.

Decent modern accommodation and housing, as well as transport, are provided for seasonal workers and permanent employees alike. Daycare and aftercare facilities have been established for the farmworkers’ children so that families and single parents need not be concerned about childcare while they are at work.

Jan le Roux with his personnel.

“The purpose of this whole exercise is that we want to add value to people’s lives. The houses we have developed for the people working here are up to a standard that I would be comfortable to live in myself.

“Through our success, we are helping to create local economic activity, and you can see the benefits this is having for the surrounding communities. We also insist on paying everyone into their own bank account, including seasonal workers, and if the person does not have a bank account when they join, we take them to set one up.

“A bank account is an important part of joining the formal working world and helps encourage people to save, which is much more difficult when people receive cash wages. It’s about creating a sustainable future, individually and collectively.”

Dr Laubscher adds that improving the wellbeing of farmworkers is identified as critical to the future of the industry in the social compact outlined in the Agriculture and Agro-Processing Master Plan (AAMP). “The tools Agility Agri offers are specifically designed for the needs of the South African agricultural value chain to build the health and financial wellbeing of the entire workforce, from CEO or farmer to staff at all employment levels,” he says.

LeRoux Group Joubertsdal.

“Any agricultural employer will recognise the value of a convenient and affordable solution to enhance the wellbeing and productivity of their workforce. The AAMP rightly highlights that modernising the relationship with labour in such a way that emphasises wellbeing is absolutely vital to the future of agriculture, besides farm workers are the farmer’s nearest neighbours,” Dr Laubscher concludes.

Source: Agility Agri