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BAT mixed farming incubator (Tobacco and food crops)

MASDT Tobacco Incubator
Mobile Agri Skills Development and Training (MASDT) launched its Tobacco Incubator Project to uplift emerging black African farmers to become productive commercial producers in collaboration with industry players and government. This  project is mainly funded by British American Tobacco South  Africa (BATSA).  
The project was launched on the farm of the Silwanendlala Ubuntu Farmers’ Association (SUFA) in Buffelspruit in 2010. Buffelspruit is situated in Nkomazi, Mpumalanga – one of South Africa’s warmest and most fertile agricultural regions. Mpumalanga is known as one of the world’s finest banana and sugar cane producing regions but its  climate and soil are perfectly suited for tobacco production.

The success of the experimental Tobacco Incubator Project on SUFA’s land has led to an extension to SUFA’s neighbours, the Bomake Family , who through the assistance of MASDT, has formed the Bomake Agricultural Cooperative. The model developed for SUFA and Bomake has now become a blueprint for the cultivation of tobacco in four South African provinces to empower black emerging farmers to not only fill a vacuum in the tobacco market, but to also – through downstream agricultural production – cultivate and sell maize and vegetables for the empowerment of their own communities. Provinces now involved in tobacco production for own benefit include Mpumalanga, North West, Limpopo and Western Cape.

Major players

MASDT’s Tobacco Incubator Project is financially supported by world players, one of which is British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA). MASDT is further supported by Universal Leaf South Africa (ULSA), Lowveld Tobacco Processors (LTP), the SA government’s Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) and AgriSeta.  On board also is South Africa’s national electricity utility, Eskom’s Corporate Social Investment Department , private agricultural services providers Rudamans, and Lowveld Agricultural Research and  Supporting Services (LARSS).

MASDT was in November last year awarded a coveted Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Technology Award   as the Winner in the Stp Best Performaing  Incubator of the Year Category.

Since the inception of the project, massive amounts of money have been pledged by role players – and they have all come true to their promises. As an example, Rudamans made available R250 000 for tractors and implements, supported by Seda. Late last year, Eskom donated R1 million for tractors and agricultural implements for use in MASDT’s areas of operation.


MASDT’s successes are largely attributed to the outcome of the yields of the 2010-2011 tobacco cultivation season in Buffelspruit. MASDT successfully conducted field trials to determine the viability of the production of Sun Cured Virginia (SVC) Tobacco on behalf of BATSA on 0,25ha. Following the SUFA trials, BATSA took the decision to invest in the expansion of tobacco production for the next season –2011/12. Bomake Cooperative was then  included.

In total 7ha of SVC tobacco was planted on SUFA’s land in 2011/2012. In keeping with BATSA’s policy of addressing poverty and food security, 14ha of maize was cultivated as part of BATSA’s Social Economic Development programme. A yield of 84 tons was realised and provided food security for upwards of 60 households (360 individuals). 

MASDT, BATSA, ULSA and LTP anticipate cultivating 10ha of SCV tobacco in the Buffelspruit area in 2013, four hectares each on SUFA and Bomake, and including an additional 2ha on the newly established Nguguwena Cooperative’s farm. The success of the experiment in this area has led to expansion in Mpumalanga to Badplaas (10ha), Groblersdal (27ha), Marble Hall (3ha), Dennilton (5ha) and Steynsdorp (6ha). In Limpopo Province 9ha has been added for SCV production, in Northwest 17,5ha, and Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape 12ha. This development comes with a price tag of R5.25 million.


A total of 46 new Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises were so far established representing 210 clients and emerging agricultural ventures. Some 272 new jobs have been created.


A comprehensive MASDT training programme for the successful cultivation of tobacco and farming management principles have been instituted in all areas mentioned above. After the first round material has been re-written to adapt to emerging farmers’ needs. This was necessary as many learners are illiterate and learning material often theoretically too complicated.

According to MASDT External Facilitator and Agricultural Economist Dr Piet van Zyl, 42 emerging farmers completed the first year of training. In the second year, 63 new first year students joined the learnership.

“Success in the learner ship programme, however, cannot be measured in terms of production. Many external factors such as weather patterns, pests and commitment come into play. Some farmers managed to secure good yields and it must be remembered that training is supplement to mentorship, which is more important in terms of production.”

MASDT training and mentorship will in the future interact more closely. Regarding a SCV Occupational Qualification things are more complicated as it is driven by state departments, Dr Van Zyl added.

Dr Van Zyl emphasised that there is a great need for SCV tobacco as only 10% is currently being produced locally. The programme will have to grow ten-fold in the next few years and as production increases the need for training will be adapted accordingly.

It is an intergral principle of this project to establish 1 ha of food for every 1 ha of tobacco that is produced.

Montanso SA is a vital partner in this initiative in that they sponsor maize seed for food production in all the SCV producing areas. In the current financial year 48 emerging Farmers continuing with Tobacco production. With funding received from TISA, more emerging farmers were supported in food production that will be included in the SCV production program in the 2017/18 season.

In the previous planting season, 74 emerging farmers were producing SCV tobacco in 2 Provinces. Yields increased from around 15 tons in 2012 to 140 tons in 2016. During the 2015/16 season, 18 of the 19 farmers in Buffelspruit/Jeppe’s Reef area could repay their loans and made a profit – to an collective amount of R471,187.33. The best performing farmer, Thandi Timba, produced 2,440.80kg on her 1 hectare. The loans include monthly labour fees.

Two women farmers in Buffelspruit/Jeppe’s Reef area are disabled but despite this, are making a success of their farming ventures.
MD of MASDT, Lynette Bezuidenhout hands out the evidence of bonuses paid out
Badplaas area had 2 outstanding performing farmers producing a yield of 2,993kg/ha and 3,732kg/ha respectively! These farmers are commercial in the true sense of the word.

The farmers of Jeppe’s Reef/Buffelspruit and Groblersdal areas were selected to change to Flue Cured Virginia (FCV) production within the next 2 seasons to ensure that black commercial FCV farmers are established. Although market trends have influenced the product strategy to change from SCV to FCV and consequently to bring emerging farmers into the commercial mainstream of FCV tobacco producers, BATSA remains committed to assisting MASDT in supporting the development of rotational crop farmers who can achieve sustainability through effective farming and business management principles, both with and without tobacco.

MASDT also supervised and administer the production of 98ha of food crops during the previous production season in the different areas. The production of these crops contributed to food security and hunger alleviation in the local communities. In Venda, some schools were assisted to establish vegetable gardens under the supervision of the Sub Mentor in that area.

This initiative created 567 jobs in the previous season.

MASDT trained the tobacco farmers in SCV tobacco, vegetable, maize and bean production. 2 Mentors and 6 Sub Mentors oversee the projects in 6 production areas.

The tobacco farmers are now in full control of their loan- and budget planning. They supplement their income with the food production crops and the community is getting the advantage of locally produced food at affordable prices.

SCV tobacco are produced in the following areas:
“This publication was made possible (in part, directly or indirectly), as a result of a Grant from the BATSA Signature Trust. The statements made and views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the BATSA Signature Trust, but remain the sole responsibility of the author.”

Nelspruit Branch

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South Africa

Pretoria Branch

Extension 3457

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Embankment Road
Zwartkop X7

Contact Details

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+27(0)12 643 3400



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