A recipient of the Order of Baobab, Dr Hlamalani Ngwenya, believes that agriculture literacy should be taught as a high school subject.
Speaking to Food For Mzansi after being honoured by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday, the esteemed agriculturist said, “It [agriculture literacy] can be creatively integrated into other skills such as entrepreneurship, business management, nutrition, health and wellness, creative writing and drama.”
Ramaphosa said Ngwenya, a chief director for producer support and development at the Western Cape department of agriculture, was being honoured for driving a developmental agenda in agriculture and growth in rural communities. The National Orders are the highest awards that a country, through its president, bestows on eminent individuals.
Dr Ivan Meyer, the provincial agriculture minister, congratulated Ngwenya on receiving the Baobab. He tells Food For Mzansi, “We are extremely proud to have a civil servant of her calibre in our department.”
Tiisetso Manako: What does this honour from the president mean to you?
Dr Hamalani Ngwenya:This is a very humbling experience. Being recognised by the first citizen of my country is as big as the Baobab tree itself and it is by the grace of God. It is a lifetime achievement that I receive with honour and humility, and I will guard it with integrity.
I also dedicate the award to many people who continue to support me and my work. The great leaders who mentor me, believe in me, believe in my abilities and give me opportunities to serve.
Also, to the people I mentor and many people who pray for me. Most importantly, my kids who are my biggest cheerleaders, my siblings, my extended family, friends and my church. I humbly salute the person who nominated me by the name of Benson Ntlemo.
Among other words of praise, Ramaphosa had high praise for your lifelong contribution to sustainable agriculture. What are the biggest opportunities in the agriculture space and how can people tap into it?
When most people think of agriculture, they think farming. I strongly believe that while farming or primary agriculture is the heart of the sector, it is not the only opportunity and the pathway to the sector.
Agriculture very diverse and, unfortunately, the dominant perception and understanding of the sector equates it to farming. I have personally experienced the sector from other angles such as policies, education, research, farming, and finance, extension and advisory services, communications and technologies and trade.
I have worked in those spaces at different levels over the years. It was for that reason that I promote what I call “perfect” opportunities in the sector. (“Perfect” is an acronym for policies, education, research, farming, extension, communication and technologies and trade.)
I use “perfect” as an acronym for this, and the aim is to broaden the lens through which the sector needs to be understood beyond farming. We need to understand that not everyone is cut out for farming, but everyone can have a significant role to play in the sector and people need to see the sector along the perfect continuum.
Women and youth empowerment in agriculture is of key importance. Do you think the country is on the right path to realise that?
The country has its national targets, a plan to reach these groups and efforts and resources are put in place to do so. However, my argument around the question is what indicators are we looking at?
Are we looking at women and youth who have their way into the agriculture space even through other pathways along the perfect continuum? If we look at the latter, then the numbers of women and youth who found job opportunities in the agricultural space are way higher than we can comprehend. And that, for me, is what needs to be celebrated as well.
Let’s talk about ways to bring agriculture closer to the youth. Do you think the country’s education system, especially at high school, should put more emphasis on agricultural studies?
I think there is a huge gap in this space. Teaching agriculture literacy will be a great opportunity at basic education level. Agriculture can be a great subject. It can be creatively integrated into other skills such as entrepreneurship, business management, nutrition, health and wellness, creative writing and drama. We need to make agriculture cool at that level.
Adopting the “perfect” concept to promote agriculture will give us a chance to attract youth who would not necessarily choose farming as their career of choice.
Is true transformation in the agricultural sector attainable?
Transformation should be attainable, and government is doing its part toward achieving that vision. Issues are complex and there is no one size fits all [solution]. We need to work together to find some systematic blockages and address them in order to make significant process and impact in this regard.