Send us, Mr Ramaphosa, a new generation of farmers

Stefan Corbett, the head boy of Merensky High School in Tzaneen, Limpopo. Photo:

A 17-year-old aspiring farmer from Tzaneen in Limpopo has heeded Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s “Thuma Mina” call, pledging his support to build a better South Africa for all. Stefan Corbett, the head boy of Merensky High School, says the country is filled with young farmers who are willing to contribute in all economic sectors.

Corbett says his school, named the best Agricultural Management Sciences school in Limpopo in 2017, cultivates balanced future leaders for both the agricultural industry as well as the broader, South African society.

He echoes the call last year by leading farmer Nick Serfontein, the Sernick Group Chairperson, asking the president to “send us, a new generation of farmers”.

Corbett first shared his open letter to Ramaphosa with Food For Mzansi. We publish it with his permission, as well as those of his proud parents, Schalk and Dodrie Corbett. His letter has also been submitted to the Presidency.

Stefan Corbett’s open letter to Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa

Dear Mr President

To be a farmer is to experience joy when a new calf is born, and to smell freshly tilled soil in the air. It is a youthful happiness for rain drenching the land, and a deep respect for nature and the environment.

Modern farmers need to learn to make new plans with the available technology to aid them, backed by science and guided by years of experience, but also with an unmatched passion for their work, to tackle the ever-increasing future challenges.

Agricultural schools in our country are therefore critically important for the development and enhancement of the agricultural sector, but also for South Africa as a whole. Mr Ramaphosa, I was inspired by your recent State of the Nation Address, in which you said, “We need to expand the training of our educators and learners to respond to emerging technologies.”

Stefan Corbett addressing attendees at the South African Agricultural Teaching Association conference.

As the youth of today, we are already comfortable when it comes to embracing new computer technologies, robotics, the internet and artificial intelligence.

We are in the unique position to combine and integrate our predecessors’ knowledge and expertise with modern technologies, to help build the farms of the future.

Former president Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world. I believe that government is making a difference in the world of agriculture by introducing grade 8 and 9 learners to it. Grade 10 to 12’s should have agricultural, technical and other career specific subjects of choice available too.

This will ensure that people gain the necessary skills from a young age to be able to not only sustain the agricultural industry, but to help it to thrive and meet the growing demand. We need more technical and agricultural schools and subjects designed to empower people and enable them to make a difference in these areas through their combined expertise. We also need more exposure to real farms in the industry where learners can witness agriculture in action.

Furthermore, learners should use all opportunities available to attend various training courses, where they receive certificates of competence. These include short courses, practical experience and tertiary colleges designed for this purpose and field. We have to gain skills that can add value to ourselves to ensure our own future.

Behind every successful school there is a community that is intensely involved and contributes to the success of that school. Mr President, oom Nick Serfontein highlighted the importance of mentors for young emerging farmers in his letter to you last year. Experts in the field of agriculture rightfully have a responsibility towards the youth to empower them and share knowledge with them. Agricultural schools offer a basis for this, and is the full package any child dreaming of one day entering the world of agriculture might need.

Parliament is busy amending the competition act to help young emerging farmers to be able to enter this ever expanding industry. We need to equip ourselves with not only the necessary skills to do the job, but to understand it well enough to adapt and apply it to focus on our environment and community’s specific needs. Whether you become the farmer, the marketer or perhaps maybe the financier that works hand in hand with the farmer, we all need to know and understand the fundamentals of farming. You protect and cherish that which you love, but you cannot love something that you do not know.

Stefan Corbett (second from left) with fellow Merensky High learners (from the left) Ulrich Koster, Juanet Venter and Arno Verster. Photo:

Sir, you invited every South African to make suggestions on how government can better serve the needs and interests of its people. We, the youth, will use this opportunity.

We have to put ourselves in positions where we can be used to make a difference with the help of government through funding, internships or job opportunities.

Where we see a problem, we can either ignore it and worsen the situation, or we can work together to find solutions. The latter is our only option.

Agriculture is the only industry that can generate wealth out of nothing. Farmers often work from long before sunrise to late at night, and sometimes in extreme weather conditions so that all of us can eat. It can be the toughest, yet also the gentlest job that requires leaps of faith. Farming presents challenges that require many repeated attempts at success.

American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison once said that he did not fail at first, he merely demonstrated 10 000 ways how not to make a lightbulb. When those were all tested, he merely took the remaining one and it worked. We are entering the fourth industrial revolution or “The Internet of things”. We have to find the next figurative “lightbulb” that will empower us to face the future.

If you have to eat, you are involved in agriculture. This is the only sector in the world that will never be able to stagnate, for there will always be a growing demand for more, better and higher quality foods whether on earth or perhaps on Mars someday. We have to meet this challenge head-on if we hope to be successful.

Countries rightfully protect their agricultural industry because food is essential to living. This is why food prices increase drastically during droughts. With people migrating to cities and food choices ever-changing, we need to adapt to provide for this need. We need to produce more meat, which requires more grain to feed the livestock. This could be one of the reasons why China is buying farms in Africa. Agriculture provides food, but also creates jobs and helps to stabilize countries as it provides food security. It creates industries around it for suppliers of fertilizers, machinery and so much more.

Mr President, I was born almost 18 years ago. In eighteen years from now the world will either have massive food scarcities, or the largest revolution ever will have taken place. This world of agriculture is our arena. I am the master of my own destiny and I choose not to be a critic standing on the side-line, but the one working through blood, sweat and tears to achieve this goal.

As you said last year, “Thuma mina”. Send us. Stuur ons. Now is indeed the time for all of us to start to work together and lend a hand.

We are a generation of young, emerging farmers who are prepared for the modern world and its new challenges. We have commercial farmers who are willing to share their knowledge, insight and passion with us, and to show us how it can be done. We are also the generation of young farmers who are ready to embrace the challenges presented by any sector of the economy or anywhere in the agricultural value chain.

President Ramaphosa, watch this space. We are here, and we have accepted your call.


Stefan Corbett