An award-winning dairy farmer in Howick, KwaZulu Natal has changed the lives of hundreds of aspiring young farmers in Mzansi. Through her Future Farmers Foundation she has opened international doors for new entrants to the industry.
It all started in 2006 when Judy Stuart met a number of ambitious students from the Zakhe Agricultural College in KZN, who were passionate about farming but couldn’t get positions on farms. The foundation has grown to where it now assists hundreds of young people in nurturing their skills and talents to grow South Africa’s agricultural sector.
“Future Farmers Foundation is a partnership where farmers provide the opportunities for candidates while the organisation provides the support and mentorship,” Stuart explains.
The foundation assists young people between the age of 18 and 26 to find positions on farms along with soft skills mentoring. According to Stuart all the Future Farmers start as apprentices at the bottom and learn and earn their way through the system.
The key to the foundation’s success, Stuart says, is asking all Future Farmer applicants what they would love to do in the agricultural sector. “We feel it is important that our interns are doing what they really love. If you want to work with vegetables, we will not arrange interviews for a poultry operation.”
Applicants join a three year program which is split into two parts, two years completing an internship in SA and, if they are successful, they’re also offered an opportunity to complete a one year internship on a farm abroad. The year the foundation started, eight Future Farmers travelled to Germany to complete their one year internship on various farms.
According to Stuart, their Future Farmers have interned on cotton, racehorse, dairy, cut flowers and cheese farms in the primary and secondary agricultural sectors. Some of their Future Farmers have even started training as drone pilots. The foundation has been approached by many qualified young people for help, but sadly, with their limited resources, they cannot accommodate everyone.
To date the organisation has interviewed more than a thousand applicants. Eighty Future Farmers have successfully completed the programme and thirty farming interns are currently completing their final year abroad on farms in Australia and the United States of America. Stuart hopes to expand and will start sending interns to New Zealand and Ireland. “The foundation’s goal is to help young people to live their dreams of becoming commercial farmers,” she says.
Although their strongest presence is in KZN with the base in Howick, they’ve recently opened an office in Paarl in the Western Cape. For Stuart, it’s an important agricultural hub and they’ve appointed Nokubonga Ndima, who joined the foundation as a future farmer and later became Stuart’s understudy as manager of their new office.
Ndima has a degree in agriculture from EARTH University in Costa Rica and extensive agricultural knowledge. She manages the office with the support of John Scrimgeour, an olive farmer in Paarl involved as farming mentor.
The organisation hopes to develop to run in other provinces, but due to a lack of support needed for the Future Farmers and farmers who employ them it’s not yet possible. Stuart is optimistic that they will reach other provinces in time. She says their mission is to continue to provide opportunities for passionate young people who are not able to enter the farming sector.
Future Farmers Foundation Success Stories
Mzwandile Duma was one of the first Future Farmers who completed his internship in the USA. Duma was the only mentor in the Future Farmers Foundation to receive an award for mentorship and now runs his own business and is an accredited trainer with AgriSETA.
With an interest in horticulture, Fortune Mdluli completed four years of apprenticeship on two golf courses in Washington DC. During his internships Mdluli was known for his humility, attitude and good work ethic.
Siphiwe Mbongwa completed his internship at Tong Park Piggery in Queensland, Australia. During his internship he studied pig production and completed over thirty modules. Stuart says Tong Park Piggery wants Mbongwa to return to train their staff on the farm.
According to Stuart there is an insatiable demand for Future Farmer interns in the USA. Unfortunately, changes in immigration laws in Australia mean that no more South Africans can go there on internships, but the foundation hopes to send more interns to new Zealand.
One of the reasons for the initiative’s success is that they receive a few generous donations from donors like the Underberg Farmers’ Association, the No Till Club and The Saville Foundation that cover the costs of the overseas internships. The interns then pay this money back out of their monthly wages whilst working overseas, and this enables the foundation to send the next intern. “It means that a single donation will be recycled for years, sending as many as two interns per year,” says Stuart.
She believes that farming is fulfilling work, adding that it is also one of the toughest sectors due to the countless risks and challenges. She recommends that anyone who is considering farming as a career should only to do it if it is a genuine passion.