Nepo SA: The restoration dream continues… to become a reality

ReStory narrator: Jaap Knot

Nepo SA is a start-up company run by myself and my wife as a closed corporation. In December 2008, just before we were to start working with the Growing Nations Trust (GNT) which is a Lesotho based faith-based organization, a Dutch Christian invited my wife and me to his office somewhere in the busy-west of the Netherlands. Although I prepared for the meeting, his question after the initial formalities hit me. He asked: “what can I do to help you to see your dream come true?” I was quiet for a while! I then proceeded to tell him how we plan to train and assist smallholder farmers in Lesotho together with the GNT. Their company paid me a full salary for an entire year and all he asked for in return was to “explore agribusiness opportunities” and identify business opportunities to add value for the farmers.

While working part-time for GNT, I spent much of my free time assessing potential business opportunities in Lesotho from fish farming, fruit drying, rosehip planting, bee keeping, nut tree planting, mobile milling to vegetable production, to mention but a few. The mobile milling was identified as a potential business endeavour, but it seemed all too simple to me back then. However, more than 10 years later it is a completely different story.

Who or what is Nepo?

Nepo SA is a healthy food facilitation company that specialises in coordinating and networking with Kingdom-oriented partners to contribute towards the restoration of agriculture, through improved conservation agricultural principles, and to restore the quality of food that is being produced. By focussing on restoration, Nepo SA seeks to promote healthy, affordable and sustainable food production. This requires restoration at multiple levels and scales.

Organisationally, Nepo SA is a closed corporation formed in 2018. However, Nepo commenced with its business and network development in 2009.

Nepo achievements

Nepo SA has, through its networking and restoration model, been able to successfully produce, beneficiate and distribute through commercial and non-commercial channels a unique, naturally bio-fortified, GMO-free, conservation agriculture produced maize-soya blend under the banner of Pure Pap (pure porridge).

The current product (Pure Pap), the name of the company (Nepo SA) and company type (Closed Corporation) have all been challenged and tested over the last decade. The first business plans, ideas and thoughts were developed in 2009 while working with smallholder farmers in Lesotho seeking solutions concerning adding value, rural development and transformation. Nepo SA, therefore, has 10 years of experience both with the testing and development of Pure Pap and with various forms of conservation agriculture in Africa-conditions. It was a involved search for the right product, the right business form and model, as well as the right location. This success, discussed later in more detail, is proof of the success of and strength in Nepo’s business model and its networking ability.  

Nepo SA has hands-on experience with crop production under Conservation Agriculture (CA):

  • The directors are themselves farmers, and work as consultants with smallholders promoting Farming God’s Way/Foundations for Farming;
  • One director obtained a Phd on CA among commercial farmers in the Free State, and thus has access to a strong research network and gained access to many commercial no till (NT)/CA farmers;
  • The directors also have an extensive network in CA as members of Grain SA’s CA advisory group, members of KZN NT club, and being well-connected with commercial and smallholder farmers country-wide. They are also involved in policy advisement, as well as research and write-up of policy papers.

Nepo SA had developed roasted soya beans, and tested and ran this product through the entire value chain.

  • This forerunner product of the current maize-soya blend was analysed on nutritional content including a report and write-up by the University of Pretoria where soya-based products was recommended.
  • Business plan assistance was provided by a business consultant under international funding;
  • The complete value-chain development was done including sourcing and designing equipment, analysis on food nutritional values, professional packaging of soya beans done in Midrand, to selling via informal sales agents.

This development pathway provided the building blocks for Pure Pap and the success thereof. Currently Nepo SA has a well-founded knowledge in the grain market, specifically conservation agriculture, and has links to many organisations in smallholder development, commercial farming, crop research, seed varieties, food nutrition values and food processing. It is this network that enabled Nepo SA to produce, process and distribute Pure Pap.

That is why we are who we are and where we are at the moment – ready to upscale a successful product to local, national and even international level. We’re happy to introduce you to this.

Pure pap

Pure Pap is a maize-soya blend that is not only a delicious maize-based cereal, it is very high in protein, energy and fibre and offers an answer to combatting malnutrition.

Pure Pap:

  • is an 80% maize, 20% soya blend
  • uses only GMO-free varieties
  • uses only products varieties produced by conservation agriculture
  • uses grains from smallholder, communal as well as commercial contract farmers

Furthermore, Nepo SA payed its producing farmers 20% premium above SAFEX for both non-GM maize and soya for the last two years.

The first large sales were done last season via a church network where Grace Ministries from Durban distributed 6 200 x 2.5kg packets during a Christmas bucket drive and another 10 tons to approximately 50 community-/faith-based organisations who distributed the Pure Pap to widows, orphans, needy and sick people.

Pure Pap is value for money and, as the only maize-soya meal blend, very competitive with different maize meal options.

This comparative analysis is based on the information provided on the bags itself, and has not been tested individually within a laboratory

Nepo SA works closely with Walk in the Light Ministries (based at Nthabamhlope, Estcourt) and Rivers of Life Ministries (based in Maseru, Lesotho). Nepo SA does not aim to maximise its physical asset holding, but wishes to add value to a restoration value chain by:

  • restoring business opportunities in rural areas
  • restoring the production of healthy food
  • restoring the land through the production of grains in a sustainable manner
  • restoring trust among people through partnerships.

For example, both the milling and the packaging of Nepo’s Pure Pap is done through partners. This partnership model can be replicated where sustainable farming is coordinated, local production is boosted, and grain is milled locally. The farmers’ own grain is milled and consumed and the surplus sold.

Walk in the Light Ministries promotes the local production and processing among the Zulu people and Rivers of Life Ministries does the same among the Basotho people.

Nepo Pure Pap is milled wholegrain and is only lightly sifted. Milling in Maseru is outsourced, while Walk in the Light Ministries has a one-of-a-kind roller mill. This mill with a 10 ton storage bin (container) on top is designed by Gas en Gereedskap from Viljoenskroon in such a way that it mills and blends at the same time. It also is the first mill of its size to run on single phase electricity. This was done so that it could be replicated, either as is or as a solar option, into any rural area in (southern) Africa. This mill can do approximately 700 t per annum and provides work for two teams of 6 to 7 people each.

What Nepo aims to achieve

Nepo SA would like to see a huge growth in both the supply and the demand of a product that does not pay lip service to restoration, but that is the very essence thereof.

Nepo SA would also like to reach out to various African countries making healthy food affordable and available/accessible.

Further, Nepo SA would like to see more production of non-GM maize and soya among all three producer groups: commercial, smallholder and subsistence farmers.

Nepo SA would like to see the Pure Pap blend being developed even further by including flour/meal from sweet potato and sunn hemp. This blend is not artificially fortified at all. Currently we are buying open pollinated yellow maize varieties and hybrids as long as it is non-GM. Nepo SA started planting quality protein maize this season and further research is needed to see how this can improve our product.

Lastly, Nepo SA would like to see testing done with the help of nutritionists so that these two crops can bio-fortify the Pure Pap even more, especially vitamin A and B1,2,3,6,9 zinc and iron.

Once again there are no coincidences, just like with de Molen farm (you can read Part 1 of this story here). The right business people and advisors came alongside us and friends assisted us by providing interest free loans for buying and securing tons and tons of grain. These friends, all connected to a Christian Kingdom group, provided lots of advice during the testing and development of the soya nuts, which was the forerunner of the Pure Pap. They assisted us with research funds, marketing, sale points, logo designs, and by drafting and securing pre-printed bags for the Pure Pap, even networking by attending meetings together and writing promotion material. We are forever grateful for these friends’ support and encouragement.

Many a times on this journey, I doubted and wondered why the products are not flying off the shelves. Why is it so difficult to make profits? Why bother to do the right thing when there are so many easier ways and options? It is tough to spend lots of time on “something” with no financial return. This “something”, however, is not just a company or milling business – not at all! God used us over the last 10 years (again time often seem so irrelevant) to drive this movement of restoring land and healing people. After all, it was He who put researchers, advisors, farmers, funders, marketers and sales agents in place. This story is not only my story, this is His story that I partake in. My hope is that you will consider to not only support the movement of producing cleaner food, but also through our model support community mills and job creation through local packing, loading and sales.