On the 12th of March 2013, the Northern Cape Stewardship Forum (NCSF) and SKEP partners went for a field trip to Blomfontein farm, which is a 2750 ha farm situated on the Bokkeveld escarpment, 45km south of Nieuwoudtville, in the Northern Cape.
The property overlooks vast landscapes, including the canyon of the Kobee River. The property is currently owned by Laurence Dworkin, and falls within the transitional zone between the succulent Karoo and Fynbos.
The purpose of the visit was for the partners to meet Dworkin and spend some time in the field on this pristine piece of the Bokkeveld, as well as to meet and see the Heiveld Cooperative members on their tea court in action processing this season’s organic tea.
Agricultural activity on the land is confined to production of organic rooibos tea and some wild tea harvesting on approximately 130 hectares of arable lands.
Given the pristine nature of much of the land and its incredible plant diversity, in 2008 Dworkin entered into negotiations with the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (DENC) to have the greater proportion of the farm declared a nature reserve. Dworkin was the Northern Cape’s first landowner to sign a biodiversity stewardship agreement of this nature in 2009, as part of the on-going conservation partnerships being established between landowners and provincial authorities. The ethos of biodiversity stewardship is a living working landscape, with landowners acting as stewards of the important biodiversity on their properties.
The unique situation in Blomfontein, with the stunning scenery and biodiversity, and its location in the South Bokkeveld, surrounded by mostly formerly disadvantaged small scale farmers, has led to a win -win partnership between Dworkin and The Heiveld Co-operative. The Co-operative was formed in 2000 by these farmers who sought to work together to reduce their production costs and gain access to markets for their products. For the first four years of its existence the Co-op rented the tea court (production facility) on the farm adjacent to Blomfontein.
With the assistance and of the Environment Monitoring Group (EMG) which had facilitated with the establishment of the business, money was eventually raised for the Heiveld to construct its own tea court. At the request of the other members of the co-op, Dworkin, who is also one of the founding members, donated a 4 ha portion of Blomfontein land under a 99 year leasehold agreement for the building of the tea court.
The Heiveld Co-op and its dynamic team has had an enormous impact on improving the conditions and livelihoods of its members and facilitated their ability to farm with rooibos in a sustainable manner. Over the years the co-op has developed steadily. There are currently 60 members and the tea court infrastructure includes two large drying aprons, an array of tanks for rain water collection and a solar power installation. There are offices, toilet facilities and a large storeroom. There are plans for the further development of facilities on the site, including the construction of accommodation for workers, built in the traditional style of stone and restio thatch.
Blomfontein is a prime example of what can be done when people come together across all boundaries and work as a team in order to achieve a common vision. The property, as a biodiversity stewardship site and small scale thriving organic rooibos tea production area, also shows that agriculture, biodiversity conservation and social well-being can promote each other’s agendas and work together in harmony. On this property each has benefited the other and the initiatives are growing from strength to strength, so watch this space!