ESSENTIAL OILS IN AMATHOLE
The Essential Oils initiative is situated in the Nkonkobe area of the district. It began in 2007 with crop trials on multiple locations in the Hogback-Alice-Seymour area totalling about 5ha. The trials identified six suitable sites and eight potential crops. The initiative entered pilot phase in 2008-09, with land under cultivation scaling up to between 10-15ha, supported by Aspire, ECDC and Nkonkobe Municipality. The pilot phase was implemented by Essential Amathole, the private company established with private investors and the Amathole Community Trust, representing the local community, as shareholders. Commercial business plans was completed in early 2010 and submitted to potential funders and investors.
Heavy snowfalls and floods in 2011 caused significant damage to the plants and infrastructure of Essential Amathole. Over R2million in working capital was provided by the private investors and Aspire to repair the infrastructure, restore existing plantations and preserve the jobs created, while waiting for investor funding to come through.
In March 2012, Essential Amathole received the first tranche of R8.74 million, a three year grant funding they received from the EU funded Employment Creation Fund (ECF) via the Deptartment of Rural Development and Land Reform. This will be used to increase the area under production from the existing 20ha to the more commercially viable 50ha. Normal commercial financing will be obtained in later years by Essential Amathole to increase production to 300ha.
Essential Amathole currently employs 23 permanent workers from surrounding villages in addition to the handful of admin personnel at its head office in Hogsback. The number of jobs created is expected to increase to nearly 100 over the next 3 years and over 500 when production reaches 300ha.
Aspire’s direct involvement with the operations of Essential Amathole has ended. However, Aspire will continue to be involved in the Eastern Cape Essential Oils Forum which was established in 2008, where it will continue to promote establishing outgrowers and value adding activities in the Amathole district.
To further diversify and strengthen the agricultural sector in Amathole, Aspire continues to investigate other high value alternative crops that could be implemented in the district, as well as identifying and establishing value added agro-processing activities in Amathole district.