South Africa faces an agricultural graduate crisis that is only exacerbated by programmes and policies that do not favour young people. This is according to Malose Mokgotho, president of the South African Agricultural Graduates Organisation (SAAGA).
A good four-fifths of the freshly graduated young agriculturalists in the country struggle to find jobs, Mokgotho says and, in a blitz interview with Food For Mzansi, adds that his team is on a mission to alleviate unemployment among the agricultural graduates of Mzansi.
Tiisetso Manoko: Who is SAAGA and how do you help?
Malose Mokgotho: SAAGA is the guardians of graduates in the agriculture sector. We also provide mentorship to help graduates navigate their journey into the sector.
As an organisation, we collaborate with various national and provincial government departments of agriculture to be part of the dialogue between the state and the youth. We do this by participating in the activities conducted by government departments involving graduates, such as farm inspections where graduates are placed.
We do this because we receive plenty of cries from graduates and students complaining about unfair practices, ill treatment, racism and exploitation.
SA agriculture is in need of skilled workers. Why are Mzansi’s agri graduates not filling those gaps?
In South Africa, about 5 000 agricultural graduates [from colleges and universities] are produced every year.
Less than 1 000 graduates will go into the government’s two-year placement programme. After two years, graduates come back unemployed because of a lack sustainable job security in the sector.
The two-year graduate placement programme is not addressing the lack of skills needed in the sector or job creation.
Why are graduates struggling? Surely there’s plenty of opportunities out there.
It starts with programmes and policies that less favour the youth in agriculture. A lack of land and viable financial aid set aside for agricultural graduates and youth in farming, are some of the inadequacies and red tape.
Also, what is really lacking, is proper practical exposure which can be implemented to its best. Graduates need to be in the field, practising what they have learned in school.
The lack of diversity and awareness of job and career opportunities in the sector makes it more challenging for graduates to further explore and thrive. There is also a lack of resources and proper practical entrepreneurship skills which prohibits graduates from establishing their farms.
The lack of sustainability and long-term employment opportunities for youth through the department of agriculture [land reform and rural development] is also problematic. The (graduate placement) programme is a short-term solution and provides for limited growth and access to future opportunities and career growth.
Do you think external challenges such as floods, Covid-19 and fuel hikes play a role?
No, the country on its own must be ready for such challenges. We believe that these challenges are not the contributors to the lack of absorption of graduates.
The real challenge and problem lies in the ineffectiveness of the government, hence the implantation of policies within the sector should receive a closer look.
What successes have you seen in your work as SAAGA?
We have had several meetings with the department where we tabled the issues such as high unemployment in our sector as well as the graduate placement of two years with no exit plan and lack of involvement of youth in policy development.
Our progress has been slow, but we are proud of the strides we have taken to highlight the challenges and plight of agricultural graduates.
We have consulted with other provincial departments to be the voice of graduates at provincial level. Our collaboration will open more opportunities for graduates, and many wrongs and injustices will be corrected.
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