Didiza: ‘Agriculture not just for poor, uneducated and elderly’

In an exclusive interview with Food For Mzansi, agriculture minister Thoko Didiza speaks candidly about some of the issues limiting youth from choosing a career in the sector. She believes current young farmers can help to make farming ‘fashionable and cool’

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Agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza says that although groundwork has been laid for youth participation in agriculture, much more must be done to encourage actual participation. 

In an exclusive interview with Food For Mzansi, Didiza highlights the work done on a policy level. However, she acknowledges that much more can be done to inspire young agriculturists.

“South Africa can therefore be rated 50% in sparking the interest of young people into the lucrative agricultural sector,” she says.

While the country has seen an increase in successful young farmers, the minister believes that the vast majority of youth still have misconceptions about agriculture. The sector suffers from entrenched negative perceptions, she says.

“The majority of young people who understand the value of farming would be those who grew up in an agricultural family setting; [a setting] where parents owned land and made a good living out of farming. Others would have experienced agriculture from the angle of a parent who worked on a farm doing backbreaking labour in the fields and getting little to show for it.”

Changing the narrative of agriculture

Didiza says it is therefore logical that those who grew up with exposure to agriculture will more easily consider study and career opportunities in the sector. This, while those with limited exposure will most likely perceive the sector as one of “intense labour” and which is “unprofitable and unable to support their livelihood”.

There also seems to be an income gap between rural and urban agriculture.

“[This is] a legacy of the apartheid era, which contributes to making the urban economy more attractive to younger people than the rural economy, including agricultural activities. Access to resources, including land, has also been a stumbling block for the majority of the previously marginalised groups, youth included.”

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While there are many reasons why some youth are hesitant of agriculture, the majority view seems to be that the sector is only for “the poor, uneducated and the elderly”, stresses Didiza.

ALSO READ: Youth Day: ‘Young farmers aren’t the future. We’re already here’

Food For Mzansi has reported on countless young farmers leading the charge, but more should join their ranks, says agriculture minister Thoko Didiza. Youth are at the centre of change in the agricultural landscape and hold the power to infinite possibilities in the industry. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The role of young farmers

In an effort to change the narrative about youth in agriculture, Didiza points to her department’s career awareness programme that was introduced in 2014. The aim was to highlight career and funding opportunities among learners.

Also, through the department’s external bursary scheme, deserving young people from previously disadvantaged, impoverished and poverty-stricken communities get bursaries on an ongoing basis.

Since the inception of the programme, more than a thousand young people benefited from funding. The department furthermore reports that 792 of these beneficiaries successfully completed their tertiary studies.

However, according to Didiza, greater teamwork is required to attract more young people to the farming sector. Existing farmers have an important role to play in achieving this goal, she adds.  

“Young farmers, who are already in the sector, should serve as role models and ambassadors in making agriculture, especially farming, fashionable and cool.”

The minister encourages farmers to recruit and place young people on their farms.

“They could further conduct motivational sessions to encourage the youth to consider agriculture as a career and livelihood of choice. Through various social media platforms, they should continuously post good stories about agriculture and their enterprises.”

ALSO READ: African youth building ‘more resilient food system’

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