The chairperson of the AgriSETA board, Sharon Sepeng, says although it achieved 91% of its annual performance targets, it has to continue raising the bar to secure more funding to achieve its mission. This, after higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande last week applauded AgriSETA for the dramatic improvement in its financial and other results.
Speaking to Food For Mzansi’s Tiisetso Manoko on the sidelines of its recent annual general meeting, Sepeng said AgriSETA wanted to achieve even more, but was restricted by budgetary constraints. “We are limited in what we could do because we depend and live on grants. This led to us not making the impact that we wish to see happening.”
It has been two years since AgriSETA could host an in-person annual general meeting because of earlier Covid-19 restrictions. What are the biggest lessons learnt by AgriSETA during the pandemic?
The pandemic really exposed the lack of health awareness, lack of hygiene, and technology use in our institutions. We saw how, with Covid-19, everything went digital, and our institutions were lacking in that regard. This is what we have reported at this annual general meeting.
Importantly, a lack of skills transfer was also one of the factors that Covid-19 exposed, but not all is lost. Charity begins at home. We are going to refocus our energies to reach those areas of concern.
In recent weeks, agricultural colleges have come under fire. Minister Nzimande has now affirmed the cabinet decision to move these colleges to the department of higher education, science and innovation. Does AgriSETA support this move?
Indeed. We agree that they should fall under [this department.] We can go far if we can stop working in silos, work as a collective and know what our different mandates are.
Community education and training colleges and universities are with us [the department of higher education and training] and the funds [for agricultural colleges] are with them [the provincial agricultural departments], so that needs to be taken into consideration.
As AgriSETA, we would truly like to improve agricultural colleges and have more impact than what we are doing now. Agriculture is a primary skill. If it is taken care of at the primary level, then it shall flourish.
However, as AgriSETA we are limited in what we could do because we depend and live on grants. This led to us not making the impact that we wish to see happening.
Our wish, as a board, together with management is to see ourselves not having barriers in terms of funds to develop these colleges. From where we are sitting, we are very limited, and our wish is to expand these agricultural colleges and drive awareness about them throughout the country, especially to rural children who might want to study agriculture.
While the annual general meeting had a big focus on reporting back, 2023 is around the corner. What can we expect from AgriSETA next year?
We are raising the bar as AgriSETA. While [we have achieved] over 90% achievement [of our annual performance] targets, the quality of those targets remains important. So, [in terms of] us raising the bar for the following year, we will be improving on the quality of our output. This means taking good care of our stakeholders because the performance of our stakeholders reflects on our performance as an institution and, importantly, as a board supporting the CEO, Dr Innocent Sirovha, and his collective.
Though the institution did well in terms of achieving its targets and getting a clean audit from the auditor-general, what are the challenges AgriSETA still faced?
Finances are our biggest challenge. We would like to fund each application that comes to us. Remember, we want to reach as many of our stakeholders as possible, but we can only do that if we are being given enough funding.
Speaking of which, what is your motivational message to agricultural students and others who are increasingly frustrated with the lack of opportunities on offer?
We will need to look at what are we missing in the whole value chain of the agriculture sector. There were foot-and-mouth disease and veld fires recently. We need to ask whether our farmers are capacitated to deal with all these challenges.
In improving the economy, how do we make sure that these young people get into these gaps, especially [with] finances and market access and skills to assist the sector to grow and overcome these challenges that hamper growth.
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