As most farmers are ageing, skill transfer and knowledge are critical in building and empowering upcoming farmers who will have to navigate the digital era of farming with technology and innovation while making sure that the country is food secure.
This was the central message during a webinar powered by Food For Mzansi and South African Breweries (SAB), with the theme of unleashing the future of farming.
Director of agriculture and sustainability at SAB Josh Hammann said the youth, particularly women, can adapt easily to technology and understand the pros and cons.
Grab a young farmer’s hand
“This is the traditional view of how the farm should look like and there is so much information out there that can get noisy, especially if you are a farmer who has been doing the same thing for 15-20 years.
“There will be a lot of questions: do you adapt or not and what are the risks associated with those technologies and with the networking that the youth is exposed to amongst themselves? Organised agriculture is better off, so it is important that the ageing farmers get the youth excited about agriculture,” he said.
Hammann said the future is having the youth adopt technology and be able to utilise that in their farms for better yields.
He said access to information was key for farmers to take the next step and make sense of all the noise that was happening around them.
“That is why I believe that the team, that includes agronomists, extension officers and organised agriculture, organise walks and talks with farmers and farmer organisations because that is critical in sharing information,” he said.
‘We learn every day’
A small-scale farmer from Senekal Lineo Maqala said the unique and innovative measure that she uses on her farm is time management. She reaps and does not plough which she believes are instrumental factors in making her farm flourish.
“Importantly for me, I also practice crop rotation because it helps the soil to develop very well,” Maqala said.
First-generation farmer Gugulethu Mahlangu said as someone who has ventured into smart farming, high electricity bills, lack of access to water, and lack of training and education were some of the biggest challenges she and other farmers are facing.
“It is very important that one builds sustainable and working methods and when you speak about that people will challenge you wanting you to show them what you mean.
“So, our farm has recently won the national climate launch pact competition. The challenge I encountered there was to measure my climate impact, so I had to practice what I preach and prove sustainable farming,” she said.
Sustainability reigns supreme
Mahlangu said vigorous training for young farmers to know and understand the importance of having sustainable practices in their farms is key.
She said taking care of the soil and all the resources that one uses in day-to-day operations is at the heart of smart farming.
“We need to be responsible stewards towards the environment, we need to ensure that as farmers we are giving back as much as we are taking from the environment,” she said.
Education and training are key
The manager for mandatory grants and stakeholder management at AgriSETA, Bavuyise Hermanus, said it is important for the institution to bridge the digital divide in the agricultural sector.
“It is important for us to introduce training with a particular focus on women and youth as they are still far behind in terms of their participation in the agricultural space.
“Our research also tells us that in terms of the workforce, there is a big split between men’s and women’s participation in agriculture with 42% being women. The space is also dominated by older people,” he said.
Andrea Campher, a sustainability and climate change expert, said the importance of smart farming was not only to conserve natural resources to be environmentally friendly but also to improve economic prosperity.
“Sustainability means preserving the land for the current and future generation of farmers and key principles to look at include soil and water conservation, technology innovation, risk mitigation and carbon credits and carbon offsets are also important.
“The farmer will not be exempted from harsh climate conditions but by using smart agricultural practices that can reduce the probability and build resilience ultimately,” she said.
Gaping holes in the curriculum
Meanwhile, Hermanus said the agricultural education in the country was still lagging behind in terms of science, technology, and innovation.
“The question that we need to grapple with is, what needs to be done to implement the smart technology and all these buzz words into the curriculum.
“One of the things that we need to face reality on is that in South Africa we got your traditional learning which includes being in the classroom and learning, but when did that curriculum last reviewed,” he said.
Hermanus added that reviewing what was being taught was key in making sure that the country’s agriculture is positioned among the best in the world.
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