Land distribution and transformation in the agriculture value chain is a long-term process that requires careful nurturing to bear fruit. Exploring ownership modalities that not only offer communities access to land, but also empower them to benefit from the productive use of the land, is essential in unlocking opportunities for more sustainable rural development.

Paul Lombard, the son of two farmworkers, who is now Managing Director of Eve Brand pear and apple farms says he had no inclination to enter a career in agriculture when he was growing up.

Lombard was born and raised on an olive farm in Paarl, "I was very interested in canoeing, and was fortunate to be awarded a sport bursary to Paarl Boys High School. I achieved SA Colours, and even had the opportunity to represent South Africa at the 2005 Junior Olympics held in Australia".

"As for career ambitions, I considered various job options, from policeman to bank manager, but it was only when I started working on the farm during my holidays that I realised there is more to agriculture than just spades and forks – there’s also plant improvement opportunities, quarantine opportunities and much more," the 32-year-old recalls.

He was awarded a bursary from Hortgro, previously known as the Deciduous Fruit Producers’ Trust, to complete his BSc Agric degree at the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute. In 2006, he made the tough decision to put sport aside to focus fully on his studies.

In 2012, after gaining some practical farming experience, Lombard started at Eve Brand in the capacity of junior manager. Under the guidance and mentorship of then Managing Director, Hannes Stapelberg, Lombard climbed steadily through the ranks and was ready to take over the leadership reigns when Stapelberg opted to step back from the day-to-day running of the farms in 2017.

"I'm a developer, and one of my most successful strategies has been to handpick the right people and develop their potential," says Stapelberg. "When I decided to move to Paarl, it was the best thing I could do for everybody because it forced them to take up the responsibility. I mentored Paul for four years, and he got to a place where his leadership was being acknowledged. Then I said ‘Thank you,’ and I left him to it."

"Taking up this new level of responsibility was a big step,” Lombard explains, “but I felt I was ready to accept the challenge. Some of the other beneficiaries may initially have questioned whether this ‘young boy’ was ready to take responsibility for our shared interests. However, Hannes and the management team were very supportive."

After two seasons and some difficult times for the industry, his confidence and experience has grown.

In the medium to long term, Eve Brand is pursuing a diversification strategy with aims for vertical integration, including the development of a cooling and packaging facility. Lombard and his team have their sights set on making this enterprise a successful model for the design and implementation of similar empowerment schemes in future.