Twenty co-operative members from Ulundi, who received training to manufacture beauty products using the natural resource of Aloe, were recognised at a certification ceremony in Ulundi yesterday. They are part of a total of forty individuals who are being upskilled to earn a sustainable living. The second group of trainees will begin the course in November.
Acknowledging the important role of co-operatives in offering economic opportunities, the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) recently invested in a programme in partnership with African Alabaster Square to empower co-operatives in the Zululand district.
The certification ceremony was attended by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation – Dr Blade Nzimande – and other high-profile dignitaries. CHIETA CEO, Yershen Pillay says, “Many of these first group of programme beneficiaries are being assisted to secure their first contract to supply soaps and other skincare products to a local lodge in Ulundi. These cooperatives are now well-positioned to grow their businesses and uplift their communities. At a time when unemployment in the country is at its highest exceeding 34%, and youth unemployment is at catastrophic levels, a project of this nature which creates jobs for local community members and especially the youth, becomes essential.”
This initiative started earlier this year when CHIETA partnered with African Alabaster Square, a soap and beauty products manufacturing company in KZN, to train co-operatives in the district to seize the opportunity provided by the abundance of raw Aloe plant extracts in Ulundi. African Alabaster uses ingredients like tea tree, aloe and other agricultural products to make products. “The training provided had basic educational entry requirements, so it gave opportunities to those who did not enter formal schooling. The skills acquired here have enabled candidates to start small businesses using these products, or to grow their existing co-operatives,” Pillay explains.
Bolstered with business skills, practical experience, and mentorship, there are great opportunities for these forty beneficiaries – 75% of whom are youth and 55% of whom are women – to leverage this resource. Having become trained and operational, the co-ops are now off takers of raw material from the processing facility, which creates and promotes local value chain development.
Speaking at the launch, Minister Nzimande said, “The Department of Higher Education and Training is responding to the needs of rural communities with this new and innovative programme for chemical cooperatives. I am very proud of the work SETAs like CHIETA are doing for cooperatives development in the country”.
Pillay adds: “The main objective of this initiative was to help resuscitate rural economies through promoting and growing small enterprises. Aloe extract can be used for many products that benefit the community. CHIETA will be working with all the co-ops to ensure that they are registered on the central supplier database of the national treasury, so that in the future, TVET colleges, SETAs and other government entities may be able to procure from these chemical cooperatives. We will also be using our collaborative agreement with the SABS to support the co-ops with getting the SABS stamp of approval.”
CHIETA invested almost R1 million in this initiative, which is sure to see great returns for the community. “We cannot train cooperatives without linking them to new market opportunities and new export growth opportunities. The new African Free Trade Continental Agreement provides precisely the new export opportunities for the small businesses and cooperatives that I’m referring to. Cooperatives cannot be funded and do nothing. They cannot produce such wonderful, high quality Aloe products, and not earn a decent income for their hard work. The solution, we believe, lies not with CHIETA, the department, or any single stakeholder, but with increased collaboration. We will therefore combine the current efforts with increased efforts at collaboration to ensure we work with the local community, local markets, including the local lodges, hotels and pharmacies, to get these wonderful products onto the shelves of retailers and into the hands of customers,” concludes Pillay.