McFair Holdings Harvesting Big Business at Dube AgriZone

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A high-tech, undercover farming operation located at Dube AgriZone, growing commercial-quality peppers and tomatoes, has kicked off its first harvest season in August 2019. The 4-hectare greenhouse farming facility, McFair Holdings, began its farming business operations in May 2019, when the first seedlings of peppers were planted on 2 hectares of greenhouse space leased from Dube TradePort Corporation.

The 8-month-long harvest season is expected to yield in excess of 10 tonnes of peppers per week, with a harvest of tomatoes that were planted on the remaining 2 hectares, also imminent. The growing agri-business currently supplies its fresh produce to the local market via giant retail distributor, Massmart and other major national fresh produce distributors.

McFair Holdings began in 2015 as a business consulting and commodities trading company, by KwaZulu-Natal-born husband and wife business partners, Knox and Lindiwe Nxumalo. The entrepreneurial couple who share an academic background of business and commerce, first met at a church youth camp in 2011.  Lindiwe vividly recalls her first encounter with her then-future husband’s entrepreneurial prowess, when he suggested to the youth committee that they should look to owning their own campsite for future youth camps, instead of paying somebody else to rent theirs.

A few years later, the young, newly married couple committed themselves to focus fully on their shared business goals. McFair Holdings focussed initially on providing business development consulting services to other small businesses. In 2016, on the back of a failed commodity trading deal, the vision for their own agri-business was ignited. They had been let down by a supplier of sugar beans to meet the quality standards expected on a big order that they had secured with a major buyer in Johannesburg. After spending a few days criss-crossing the city trying to find an alternate source of quality sugar beans to save their deal, they had come up empty-handed and headed back home to KwaZulu-Natal, feeling dejected. They knew then that their future business endeavours would need to focus on them having tighter control over the quality of their produce and a closer involvement in the value chain.

Like many black South African families, farming has always been a part of the Nxumalo’s history. Both partners recall their respective grandmothers supporting the families through subsistence farming and acknowledge that ‘’working the land’’ is in their blood. It was on a family-owned sugar cane field that McFair Holdings first made its agricultural debut when the couple started to research and seriously consider farming as a potential commercial business. In 2017, armed with a clearer vision of what they wanted to achieve in the agri-business space, they applied to be considered as tenants within the Dube AgriZone.

Commenting on this business milestone Chairperson of the Board of Dube TradePort Corporation, Dr Bridgette Gasa, said: “We congratulate McFair Holdings on its first harvest out of Dube AgriZone. McFair Holdings epitomises, in every way, the type of local business that Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone and Dube AgriZone in particular, envisioned. Not only did the company meet the stringent but imperative criteria for commercial sustainability, but they also represent the growing number of black-owned agri-businesses and black industrialists on whose shoulders the future economic growth of our country depends. The tremendous potential for businesses like McFair Holdings to create and sustain jobs within our current depressed employment environment, and to stimulate interest in investment and trade within our region, deserves our sincere commitment and ongoing support.”

Dube AgriZone is Africa’s first integrated perishables supply chain and one of the most technologically-advanced, future farming platforms on the continent. The high-tech agricultural development, which forms part of the Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone, is host to the largest climate-controlled glass-covered growing area in Africa. It aims to stimulate the growth of KwaZulu-Natal's perishables sector and affords the opportunity to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistent quality, year-round production and the superior management of disease and pests.  The present phase one development comprises an extensive 16 hectares of greenhouses, dedicated post-harvest packhouses, a central packing and distribution centre, a nursery and a sophisticated plant tissue culture laboratory, Dube AgriLab. In November 2018, McFair Holdings took occupation of a 4-hectare greenhouse farming facility and began farming operations in May.

CEO of McFair Holdings, Knox Nxumalo, said: “We see Dube TradePort as a “big brother” to our business when we consider the extent of the support we have enjoyed from Dube AgriZone. Not only are our seedlings grown in the adjacent AgriZone nursery, which reduces our plants’ travel time and the risk of damage, but the feedback we receive from seedling research and the advice and support we receive on crop development is critical to improving our crop quality. Having direct access to the packhouse has also improved our efficiency tremendously.”

The company currently employs 33 full-time employees including junior and senior managers who are formally trained in agriculture, horticulture and quality control. The team also includes 26 general workers, many of whom have had no former experience in undercover farming and have been up-skilled by McFair Holdings to meet the requirements of the operations and are continuously trained and mentored on-site. An additional 10 seasonal workers are called in when needed.

Nxumalo adds: “We need to be commercially viable and while Lindiwe and I have significant training in business and commerce and experience as entrepreneurs, we would not be able to do this alone. Farming is a science and it requires specialist skills. We have been fortunate to attract a team of experienced growers who are highly skilled and who understand the science of undercover farming, in particular. The synergy of both commerce and agricultural sciences is what makes McFair Holdings a successful and sustainable business. We have relied on the expertise of our specialist consultants and senior managers and we have built our business operations around their advice in order to ensure that we have resourced the operations to meet the quality and standards that we set out to achieve.”

Celebrating the first harvest of green, yellow and red McFair peppers, Lindiwe Nxumalo credits the couple’s faith in God, their resilient passion towards their business goals and their commitment to the people impacted by their business, including their two children and all their employees, as the key drivers of their ongoing success.

Knox Nxumalo is optimistic about the future: “Being located within the Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone has fuelled and grown our initial vision for McFair holdings. Our first priority is to make our current operations viable and self-sustainable but then we definitely intend scaling, and scaling fast. We are currently negotiating on a piece of land for open-field farming of other fresh produce that we intend using in a range of frozen vegetable that will be packaged under our own brands. The plan is to export globally. We will also use our past experience and business interests in commodity trading as we expand our operations into other facilities located at Dube TradePort Corporation Special Economic Zone. We want to explore the opportunity of an agri-processing plant at Dube TradeZone and make use of the integrated supply chain services, cold storage facilities and cargo handling services that are currently available to us right here.”

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