Is agriculture the saviour of the youth, or is it the other way around? No matter which way you look at it, young South Africans have an important role to play in the industry, agreed speakers at the VKB and Food For Mzansi Power Talk webinar this morning.
The webinar on the topic of youth in agriculture was the second in a series of three Power Talk webinar events. Held on National Youth Day, the event saw five expert speakers engage with topics around the contribution of young people in Mzansi’s agri sector.
The final event in the series, on the topic of “growing food with integrity”, is taking place next Tuesday. Registrations are now open.
Melvin Swartz, project coordinator at the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, said that agriculture has a powerful multiplying effect. This draws people from different backgrounds to find a place across the diverse agri value chain. For that reason it is important to keep investing in the industry.
He said that, looking from the perspective of an ageing farming population, the youth can be said to be the saviours of agriculture going forward.
“On the other hand, if you look at the high unemployment of the youth in the country and the high levels of poverty in the rural areas, then you can also argue that agriculture is the saviour for our youth.”
The keynote speaker, Dr Ivan Meyer, Western Cape minister of agriculture, said more agricultural schools are on the horizon for his province.
The youth are central in the future of agriculture in South Africa, Meyer said. Special attention will be given to structured training and education and with this comes the establishment of more agricultural schools in the province.
“I have made it my mission. I have engaged with our Western Cape MEC for education. We came together and we said it’s no good to say that the youth is the future, let’s make that future happen.”
Meyer said that rigorous efforts have been made to make his vision a reality. The Cape Winelands has the biggest soft fruit industry in the southern hemisphere, he said. It is disheartening that there is only one agricultural school in the district.
“If you have the biggest soft fruit industry in the southern hemisphere, then government must put more agricultural educational platforms in that specific geographical area. In the Cape Winelands there is only one agricultural school and that cannot be the case.”
Heinrich Gerwel, lecturer at the department of agricultural economics at Stellenbosch University, advised young people entering the industry to get a wide education. No education is wasted, he said. However, a formal education in agriculture is only one aspect to what you need to be successful.
“What I’ve learned since being involved in the sector is that there’s a lot more to farming than the actual agronomy part of it. It’s actually a business as well, so business studies is extremely important, as are social interactions, how one relates to other people within your supply chain and your value chain.”
He advises young entrants to the industry to immerse themselves in as much information sharing as possible.
Dr Ethel Phiri, lecturer at the department of agronomy at Stellenbosch University, said that, while formal education is important, many young people she meets in the industry already has the basic skills.
She emphasised that anyone can start farming with almost no resources, which makes it potentially powerful for unemployed youth.
“In my mind anyone can become a farmer, even if you’re unemployed. The one thing you need to do is take those seeds … and plant them. If you eat a lot of pumpkin, take the pumpkin seeds and plant them. And then the next thing you’re selling pumpkins to your community. You don’t need that big a space for you to be able to do the planting. You can start with nothing,” she said.
Byron Booysen, managing director of Booysen’s Tunnel Farming, said while there are many policies that are proactive when it comes to land reform, there are still many gatekeepers in the private sector. He feels government should hold them much more accountable about how the country utilises its talented youth.
He said that South Africa has many talented young people who are keen to be involved in the sector and are talking about how they can get access to technologies and education.
“But what do we do after we have the knowledge or even the spirit to be able to engage with agriculture? Are we going to take it a step further and give these people a chance to be able to be successful and also contribute to our economic capability? Are we going to give them the opportunity to employ themselves, and empower themselves?”
When it comes to access to land, Booysen said, we tend to fall into zero-sum thinking. We view it as a competion for resources instead of seeing how we can enable collaboration to reach the collective goal: earning foreign currency for the country. As a result, we’re not getting the most out of our talented youth.
“We need to see how can we bridge all the social divides by collectively thinking what is the end goal in our country. When we give people access to land, what do we want to achieve?”
Keatlegile Mnguni, livestock farmer and youth chairperson of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa), advised young people entering the industry to look wider than just farming and primary agriculture.
“The one thing I would like us to do is to go back to our agricultural value chain. From there we’ll be able to see that there’s a lot of opportunities in the industry beyond farming – in production, processing, logistics, markets, retail.”
To young people interested in joining the industry, she said: “Do your research on agriculture and farming different commodities as well as other career opportunities that are available. Utilise all your social media platforms effectively. Follow Food For Mzansi, follow all other platfroms, and find the right mentor to assist you.”
Register now for ‘food with integrity’ webinar
The panellists for next Tuesday’s Power Talk webinar presented by VKB and Food For Mzansi include Dr Naudé Malan, senior lecturer in development studies at the University of Johannesburg and founder of Izindaba Zokudla, Dr Pieter Prinsloo, Eastern Cape livestock farmer, Siyabonga Mngoma, founder of Abundance Wholesome Foods, an organic fresh produce home delivery service, and Caroline McCann, Slow Food International Southern Africa councillor.
The interactive panel discussion led by Food For Mzansi editor Dawn Noemdoe will focus on understanding and developing a food production system with integrity, understanding fair trade and food traceability and if we have any best practices in the agricultural industry, particularly when it comes to the lower consumer products.
Attendance is free and you can register here.