HandPicked project turns food consumers into growers

Teaching agriculturally-minded young people how to become growers of food, is the first step to encouraging them to become agripreneurs for this corporate skills development initiative. The Mr Price Foundation is focusing its HandPicked project in KwaZulu-Natal.

Skills development: HandPicked grower Senamile Gumede tends to herbs and vegetables in the vertical growing towers at Mr Price Group support centre in Durban. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi.

HandPicked grower Senamile Gumede tends to herbs and vegetables in the vertical growing towers at Mr Price Group support centre in Durban. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi.

Since its inception in 2005 the Mr Price Foundation has been a leader in skills development in South Africa. Since then has helped shape hundreds of young people’s careers and taught them skills that could make them self-sustainable in the future.  

Recently, the foundation through its HandPicked project assisted a number of young people in agriculture in KwaZulu-Natal. This project equips agriculturally-minded youth with technical farming and agribusiness skills, cultivating jobs, stimulating agripreneurship and tackling food insecurity. 

The aim of this project is to shape a new generation of sustainable agripreneurs and home food growers, shifting them from being consumers to become food producers and job creators.   

Food For Mzansi talked with Karen Wells, head of the Mr. Price Foundation, about how the project assists young people.  

Karen Wells, head of the Mr Price Foundation. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
What inspired the project? Why farming? 

HandPicked was created to generate new employment opportunities through agricultural skills development. 

South Africa is grappling with a lack of formal skills development and job opportunities in the retail, manufacturing and supply chain sectors. We were inspired to widen our lens to agriculture to look for innovative ways for youth to generate an income for themselves, with the added benefit of being able to provide fresh produce for their families.   

This was a key concern as unemployment and food insecurity became more acute in Covid-19. After training, HandPicked growers can go on to become agripreneurs or small agribusiness owners, or become self-sufficient food producers. In this way, HandPicked is upskilling growers to improve food security in both rural and urban communities. 

What is the demographic profile of the beneficiaries? 

With some of the highest rates of poverty, inequality and unemployment in the world, we help young people unlock their true potential in South Africa. 

Beneficiaries are unemployed South African youth between the ages of 18 and 33, with agricultural training specialising in crop farming. We also select growers from communities and co-operatives. 

What kind of farming does HandPicked support young people with?  

HandPicked focuses on crop farming using new methods such as hydroponic vertical farming. Vertical farming uses less water and less space than traditional methods of growing in soil. We believe that this is a sustainable way of farming for future generations.  

The programme offers practical agricultural and business skills to students who are already enrolled for agricultural studies at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges. 

Do you support young people from all over the country or only from a particular region? 

The project is currently based in KwaZulu-Natal, with a view to scale.  

How do young people apply? What are the criteria? 

Candidates do not apply. We selected them from the communities we work in, such as Hammarsdale. We select candidates with a positive attitude towards agriculture and a flair for entrepreneurship. Our end goal is to create agripreneurs. 

Any words of advice for young people? 

Look for opportunities to learn and upskill yourselves so that you can begin to shift from consumers to food producers. Strive to create new local markets and jobs to uplift your communities. Stay close to your market and talk to your consumer. It will give you a valuable understanding of their wants and needs.

ALSO READ: Township food growers squeezed by flooding

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