Are you young and still thinking that agriculture is just a dirty job? Well, then you need to start becoming more open minded, warns the Northern Cape MEC for land reform, agriculture and nature conservation and environmental affairs, Mase Manopole.
Manopole tabled her budget for the new financial year on the eve of Youth Day celebrations. In this exclusive interview with Food For Mzansi, the MEC speaks candidly about her vision for the province’s youth.
How are the youth championed in your department?
As a department, we are serious about transforming this sector to be pro-women and pro-youth. I established a task team to investigate ways and means on how best they can benefit from the agricultural sector.
We are focused on youth development because this will be our vehicle in our mission to ensure and secure transformation in the sector.
Under the apartheid government, most disadvantaged communities never had the opportunity to actively participate in agriculture. We offer several programmes that seeks to bring about change and heal past wounds.
We know the challenges of unemployment is very high in our province. For us to address this, we need to partner.
I personally look forward to the cleaning and greening programme being rolled out. The project aims to see youth become ambassadors and champions for waste management in their communities.
The project concept will supply each ward with four bicycles. Each bicycle would be allocated a specific route where they would then collect household waste. The waste will be taken to a centrally located container where it will be sorted, and recycled material removed.
The waste with no value is then put aside. The Sol Plaatje Municipality will collect and dispose of waste at the landfill. Recycled waste will then be sold to a registered recycler and the proceeds will be shared between teams.
Youth in agriculture are often weary of promises made by the department. When will they see these programmes being rolled out?
These programmes will be in operation within a month. The department is currently finalising the concept plan for this project.
How have you managed to ensure youth benefit from the 700 000 hectares of land announced by minister Thoko Didiza last year?
Young people are a priority of this department. More than 60% of farmers in the province are older people. As they [young people] graduate, we must be proactive in assuring that they are prepared to take over where the older people are prepared to utilise the opportunities that the department had to offer.
Currently, we are in the process of shortlisting, interviews and verification. Remember, our extension officers need to physically visit these farmers because anybody can apply, even if they do not really have an interest in agriculture.
In our province, we have allocated five young people in Jan Kempdorp land and funding. Within a year, they decided that they no longer had an interest. What we have decided now is to place them [young people] in a programme which will draw them in and ensure that they are interested in thriving in the sector.
How will you inspire youth to get more involved in agriculture?
The role of extension officers is to spearhead awareness programmes across the province. It is refreshing to see graduates who are committed to agriculture get involved in our graduate programmes because they want to expand their knowledge.
A lot of youth just want to be employed. We want to change that mindset and see them contribute toward economies. To be empowered, the youth need to become employers. That is the only way we can create jobs in our province.
Lastly, do you have a message for struggling youth who aspire to become farmers in the province?
Young people should not be despondent. I know challenges have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but we are trying very hard to come up with innovative ways of empowering youth to ensure they actively participate in the economy.
We know mining rules the Northern Cape, but there are plenty of employment opportunities that exist in the agricultural sector. Do not be despondent. Agriculture is not a dirty job. Agriculture has the power to free our youth from the scourge of unemployment. Walala wasala. You snooze, you lose.