A third-generation agri worker, Audrey September from the farm Uitkyk in the Bergrivier region, was announced as the 2021 Western Cape Prestige Agri Awards winner.
During a glitzy event held in Stellenbosch on Saturday, 13 November 2021, September walked away with prizes to the value of approximately R100 000, including an overseas study tour.
The Prestige Agri Awards, which recognises the hard work, commitment and dedication of the province’s agricultural workforce, saw a total of 624 agri workers representing 11 regions and competing in 11 categories this year.
September told Food For Mzansi that she was overwhelmed by the acknowledgement.
“This award means so much to me. Farmworkers don’t always get recognition for our contribution. In our line of work it’s very rare that someone will come and tap you on your shoulder and say ‘job well done’.
“I’m a third-generation farmworker and the first in my family to receive this award. It is a huge honour.”
Her passion for agriculture stems from an agricultural upbringing, she said. During school holidays she and her friends would work on the farm to earn some money which they would end up spending over the December period.
“I just realised that my entire family worked in agriculture and they are all happy, so I followed in their footsteps.”
In 2019, September’s brother, Jerid-Lee Warries, was crowned the Bergrivier regional winner.
Her message to young people in the industry and other agri workers is that they should appreciate the importance of the sector in which she toils daily.
“Let’s not look at farming as dirty work; that if you’re a farmworker, you will always be one. Agriculture is who you are. At the end of the day, what you put in you will get out,” September said.
Western Cape’s vision for agri workers
Present at the event was Western Cape minister of agriculture Dr Ivan Meyer, who handed September her award.
Meyer told Food For Mzansi that because agriculture was classified an essential service during the worst of the global Covid-19 pandemic, agricultural workers had to keep working through the harvesting, production and distribution season.
“For us it is important to recognise the work and the contribution of agri workers because during Covid-19, people still had to eat and every meal that we eat is a product of [the labour of] agri workers.”
Agri workers in the province constitute about 17% of the total labour force and there are 226 000 agri workers in the Western Cape.
“These are very important people and they need to be recognised and acknowledged for their contribution. So today we not only celebrate agri workers but we also salute them.”
Meyer’s vision for agri workers in the province is that the living conditions of agri workers improved.
“We need to increase the understanding on how important it is to build dignity: a dignified life, working conditions on the farm as well as living conditions. That’s my vision for agri workers. These people work early hours and late nights to produce food and therefore demand respect.”
Meyer added that opportunities in the agricultural value chain also needed to be created for agri workers.
Agri workers are anchors
The head of department for agriculture in the province, Dr Mogale Sebopetsa, said that agri workers were important contributors to the sector. His view is that without agri workers, agriculture could never exist.
“It’s important for us to show agri workers that we value what they are doing.”
“This year there were a lot more entries from women [and] the overall winner [ended up being] a woman.”Dr Mogale Sebopetsa
Shoprite Freshmark has been the main sponsor of the agri awards competition since 2012.
According to Pieter van Zyl, general manager for procurement at Shoprite Freshmark, the giant retailer is just one of the links in the agricultural value chain that starts in the orchards or on the fields and ends on South African tables.
“The agricultural workers are not only the first link but also the anchor of the whole chain. Their love and passion for agriculture have struck me most in the last couple of years. Shoprite is proud to be associated with this great competition.”
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