South Africa’s agriculture sector is slowly attracting more and more young farmers. But in order to persuade more to come on board, real examples of young entrepreneurs being supported is paramount, believe agricultural economists at the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), Kayalethu Sotsha and Khodani Madula.
Food insecurity, unemployment, and inequality remain a “triple” challenge that South Africa is battling. The NAMC’s food basket price monitor remains elevated by 7.8% year-on-year, from April 2021 to April 2022. This was despite a 1.1% decline recorded month-on-month between March 2022 and April 2022.
The prices of food, in general, are predominantly driven by global factors, particularly the Russia-Ukraine war, which has raised concerns about global supplies leading to the banning of exports from some of the largest exporters of agricultural commodities such as Indonesia (palm oil) and India (wheat).
The Agbiz research also observed that in March 2022 the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) global food price index reached its highest-level averaging 170 points since its inception in 1990, predominantly at the back of the Russia-Ukraine war.
Furthermore, the FAO data on hunger and food insecurity indicate that the number of people undernourished in South Africa has grown from a 3-year average of 1.8 million in 2009-2011 to 3.8 million in 2018-2020, with the fastest growth so far recorded between 2019 and 2020.
Although the Bureau for Food and Agriculture Policy (BFAP) cautions against the interpretation of the employment statistics citing the methodology concerns, the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) indicated that in quarter 1 of 2022 the South Africa’s unemployment eased by 0.8% to 34.5% quarter-to-quarter.
This is still 1.9% higher year-on-year, compared to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021. Furthermore, the QLFS shows that youth unemployment was higher than the national average at 63.9% and 42.1% for the age groups of 15-24 and 25-34 respectively and irrespective of educational attainment.
South Africa’s Gross Domestic Production (GDP) on the other hand increased by 1.9% in the first quarter of 2022. This was an improvement from 1.4% recorded in the fourth quarter of 2021. Agriculture continues with good performance on the back of favourable rainfall and increased area planted.
Although the sector recorded a decline in employment in the first quarter of 2022, it recorded the highest employment growth at 6.6% year-on-year compared to other sectors, such as transport (6.4%), manufacturing (5.5%), mining (2.7%) and trade (0.5%), among those that recorded positive growth.
Entry into agriculture still difficult
Despite this performance and agriculture being identified as one of the key drivers of South Africa’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan (ERRP) by the President, it is still lagging in addressing smallholder farmers’ integration into the mainstream economy with youth involvement being part of the challenge.
In an article by Sipho Stuurman, Agri SA called for young people to join the agriculture sector, citing the domination of senior farmers with an average age of a farmer in South Africa estimated to be about 57 years old. In doing so, Agri SA however acknowledged that entry into the sector remains difficult.
The establishment of the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan (AAMP), among other sectoral master plans, brings hope that this challenge is among the priorities in the development of the agriculture sector as it aims to improve economic growth, inclusivity, and unemployment among other things.
Doing whatever it takes
In terms of youth involvement in the sector, the NAMC’s quarterly agripreneur report featured 31 young agripreneurs who fall under the youth category between March 2020 and June 2022, with females constituting 74% of these agripreneurs. 29% of these agripreneurs have a qualification in agriculture, while the rest have qualifications in business administration, engineering, social science, psychology, and tourism.
The majority (32%) are involved in vegetable production, followed by those involved in mixed farming (23%) and poultry (19%). The rest are involved in distribution, agro-processing, and training. 10% are involved in both production and agro-processing, implying that they are adding value to their products and increasing their margins along the value chain.
On average, these farmers create a maximum of three permanent jobs and a maximum of 10 temporal jobs. They have a wide range of challenges, but the most frequent ones include:
- Lack of infrastructure (storage, irrigation, and chicken houses);
- Limited access to inputs (e.g., day-old chicks);
- Lack of access to land and water as well as inability to secure long-term lease agreements for land;
- Lack of take-off agreements;
- Lack of funding for small-scale producers;
- High inputs costs; and
- Cheap chicken imports.
Despite these challenges and the fact that many of them were driven into farming by a lack of employment opportunities in their respective careers, the agripreneurs are determined to do whatever it takes to succeed and create employment opportunities for others, with some highlighting that farming was their wisest pursuit. The key factor is their admission that they knew that it was not going to be easy for them.
There could be many more such examples in the country and they provide the basis for the AAMP to build on as it strives to rebuild and restructure the agriculture sector. Supporting the young agripreneurs will improve the succession prospects in the sector and it presents a chance to persuade more of them to come on board.
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