Jobs Fund giving wings to thousands of unemployed youth

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In a world where movers and shakers are often swaggering, Najwah Allie-Edries is a gentle giant who has in the last nine years quietly been giving wings to thousands of unemployed youth.

As the deputy director general of employment facilitation for the Jobs Fund, she has learnt to see potential where many others see hopelessness. Together with a host of partners, she tackles the curse of joblessness by discovering new ways of working, often even when the costs and risks may be unknown.

In an exclusive interview for Food For Mzansi’s podcast called Farmer’s Inside Track she says, “We thought that we should put out a challenge to South Africa and ask them: ‘What are the best ways to create jobs; the best way to respond to the unemployment crisis? And we were really looking for innovation in that.”

The rest is history. Since 2011, the Jobs Fund has been in the driving seat of collaborations between the private and public sectors as well as civic organisations. After eight funding rounds, it has contracted R8.5 billion to a portfolio of 146 projects. These projects will potentially leverage an additional R13.3 billion from the fund’s partners to create 259 250 permanent jobs, 56 930 short term jobs, 26 695 internships and train 306 702 beneficiaries by 2025.

Following the successful implementation of the Sugarcane Development Initiative, a 2014 partnership between the Jobs Fund, Tongaat Hulett and farming communities in three districts of KwaZulu-Natal, this public-private partnership has so far resulted in an injection of over R80 million in rental income to these farming communities. Photo: Supplied

There are many success stories across Mzansi, including the partnership between the Jobs Fund and leading sugar producer Tongaat Hulett to speed-up socio-economic renewal in the rural communities of northern KwaZulu-Natal. More than 5 800 people are benefiting from this six-year-old partnership, and more than 3 000 jobs were created.

Allie-Edries says the Jobs Fund, managed by the National Treasury, also has an appetite for agricultural game-changers. In the podcast she tells Food For Mzansi’s editor, Dawn Noemdoe, “We have a very sizeable agriculture portfolio. In fact, we had a dedicated funding round just for agriculture because we believe that agriculture can offer us an opportunity for job creation. It can be labour intensive.”

To date, we have had more than a billion rand of grants allocated to various agricultural projects. – NAJWA ALLIE-EDRIES

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Tongaat Hulett CEO Gavin Hudson says their Jobs Fund partnership is crucial in addressing pressing socio-economic challenges. “This initiative is a clear example of how business can work together with government in a sustainable manner to not only address unemployment, but to deliver ongoing benefits to communities. We are delighted that more than two years after the completion of the project, it continues to make a significant impact by providing incomes to thousands of people while at the same time productively farming sugarcane.”

Allie-Edries adds, “About R82 million has been distributed directly to beneficiaries in the past four production seasons. That is a significant amount, and it excludes the wage earnings that have been generated by the project. Almost 11 000 hectares of sugarcane was planted, made up of dryland and irrigated sugarcane.”

The partnership between Tongaat Hulett and the Jobs Fund is described as a leasehold mold, which encourages agricultural development in cases where smallholder farmers have access to land, but they do not have the capacity (knowledge, skills, experience, equipment and infrastructure, financial resources, etc.) to commence with farming and cultivate the land. The smallholder farmer, therefore, acquires skills via skills transfer from the implementer, an income from leasing the land, and income from a wage (should they also work on the land).

The Jobs Fund believes this model has the potential to transform fallow and/or under-utilised land, especially in communal areas, into a productive and income-generating asset – creating a greater understanding amongst communities regarding the commercial value of land and the opportunity cost of not utilising available land under their control. They say given the impact that covid-19 has already had, and will continue to have, on the economy and work, bringing unutilised community land into agricultural production, is not only an essential service for the country, but also provides essential livelihoods and skills development to vulnerable communities.

Other podcast highlights

Edward Kgarose (30), owner of Kgarose Kgaros produces sweet potato yoghurt in three flavours, namely banana, strawberry and apricot.
Edward Kgarose (30), owner of Kgarose Kgaros produces sweet potato yoghurt. Photo: Supplied

Noemdoe says other highlights from episode 30 of Farmer’s Inside Track include Duncan Masiwa’s interview with trendsetter Edward Kgarose, an award-winning Limpopo-based entrepreneur that invented the unconventional sweet potato drinking yoghurt.

The podcast also features a 21-year-old North West farmer, Tshepiso Lekabe, who says an earlier Food For Mzansi article about his journey helped him set up new business deals with other farmers in the country.

This week, farmers who belong to the Farmer’s Inside Track club have selected In the Driving Seat: Lessons In Leadership by Brand Pretorius as their book of the book. Dr Johnny van der Merwe, an agricultural economist, is also back with the latest AMT Fresh Produce Outlook on the markets.

How to listen to Farmer’s Inside Track for free

Option 1 works on any mobile device: We recommend you download the Spotify app to “subscribe” to Farmer’s Inside Track, but if you’re running low on memory space, you can also just click on this link to listen to episode 30.

Option 2 is for iPhone and other Apple users: Apple has pre-loaded its Apple Podcasts app on all of its devices, including iPhones. Click the “subscribe” button to get notified whenever a new Farmer’s Inside Track episode drops, or simply click here if you just want to listen to episode 30.

Option 3 works on any mobile device: This one is for all the Google lovers. Google Podcasts is the new kid on the podcast block, but it works as great. Simply click here to listen to episode 30 of Farmer’s Inside Track.

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