Social Capital Leveraged for Cooperative Farming

Northern Farm in Diepsloot, South Africa, is a beacon of community development rooted in cooperative agriculture. Set on 38 hectares and led by Johannesburg’s Social Development Food Resilience Unit, the farm’s success lies in its collaborative model, agricultural training programmes, and economic impact. Residents form cooperatives to share resources, knowledge, and cultivate the land. This not only boosts productivity but also fosters a sense of ownership and community.

Just north of Johannesburg, Northern Farm sits on 38 hectares dedicated to collaboration, education and sustainable farming practices. The core of Northern Farm’s success lies in its cooperative farming model where community members are encouraged to form agricultural cooperatives. By promoting collaboration over competition, this model enhances productivity, and also encourages a sense of ownership and solidarity among participants. 

Northern Farm participants enjoy the harvest season.

Northern Farm offers accredited agricultural training programmes aimed at equipping participants with the essential skills and knowledge for successful farming. These programmes cover a range of topics, including soil health, crop rotation, pest management, and sustainable farming practices. Through hands-on training and expert guidance, community members gain the expertise needed to maximize yields and ensure long-term agricultural sustainability.

Solidaridad has worked with Northern Farm since the inception of South Africa’s Social Employment Fund (SEF), a government initiative to address the country’s growing unemployment crisis. Over the years the farm has welcomed approximately 40 SEF participants into their community.

Harvesting produce for market at Northern Farm.

In 2021, these participants were granted a significant opportunity: access to 1 hectare of land for farming and production purposes. Equipped with seedlings from Solidaridad’s seedling production training project, and facilitated by project officer Dumisani Ngonyama, these participants embarked on a journey of agricultural entrepreneurship.

The participants have now established their own cooperative, enabling all members to engage in farming activities on the allocated land and share in the profits. This cooperative model exemplifies the success of the SEF project, demonstrating tangible enterprise development within the community.

South Africa’s SEF programme and Solidaridad support co-op farming in South Africa.

Beyond its economic benefits, Northern Farm plays a crucial role in community development and social cohesion. In fact, one of the most significant outcomes of Northern Farm’s initiatives has been its positive economic impact on the Diepsloot community. Through the sale of locally grown produce, participants generate income that improves their financial stability and quality of life. Moreover, the cooperative model ensures an equitable distribution of profits among members, to further enhance economic growth and reduce inequalities within the community.

Northern Farm is an example of how cooperative agriculture can build communities and drive sustainable development. Through its innovative model, educational programmes, and economic opportunities, Northern Farm has transformed the Diepsloot community, and provides a blueprint for similar initiatives worldwide. 

The Northern Farm collective celebrates the harvest and their hard work.

The success of SEF participants at Northern Farm serves as a reminder of the transformative power of cooperation, education, and grassroots initiatives in building resilient and thriving communities. Furthermore, the work at Northern Farm underscores the project’s sustainability, with participants poised to maintain and expand their agricultural endeavors after the project’s conclusion. 

By bringing community members together to work towards a common goal, Northern Farm’s collaboration with Solidaridad and SEF has facilitated economic development and cultivated long-term community pride, resilience and prosperity.