When science and farming converge, magic happens

Turning unemployed youth into future farmers with a heart for science. This is the mission of two agriculturists who are breathing new life into a Western Cape township. A participant tells us, “Wake up and smell the coffee. Agriculture is the only way to go”

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What started as a mission to create the “cheapest egg in Africa” has transformed into an inspiring project to train unemployed youth in a Western Cape township to become future farmers.

On any given day, the project founders, Anki and Akim Riemer, can be found in the bustling Masiphumelele township, teaching youth a thing or two about regenerative and urban agriculture. Their primary focus is on job creation, skills development and entrepreneurship.

It is a calling that lies close to the heart, says Akim. “We have phenomenal potential in our country but sadly our youth are rotting, and we have to acknowledge this. They have been let down and their voices go unheard.”

Akim Riemer is the founder of Green Guerrillas training unemployed youth about agricultural practices. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Akim Riemer is the founder of the Green Guerrillas, training unemployed youth about agricultural practices. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The Riemers believe that rampant unemployment should not hold back a generation with so much raw, untapped and untried potential. This is why their respective organisations, Nordic Earth and Green Guerrillas, collaborated through a farming education programme at the Ukhanyo Primary School in Masiphumelele. 

“We would have been able to produce six organic eggs for R5 and still make a profit,” explains Akim about their initial egg project. Nearly 2 000 learners participated in this initiative.

The duo planned on recruiting and inspiring unemployed youth of Masiphumelele to become active urban agriculturalists. However, just as the programme was starting to break ground, an international non-profit organisation received funding and the green light to use the available school space for a different project. 

Akim and Anki’s farming education programme got the boot, but luckily Nordic Earth could keep the wheels turning on its farming property. A hectare of the farmland was availed to empower unemployed youth.

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Today, the open-air science laboratory trains youth as well as community members in microbial husbandry. Together, they discover organisms that can only be viewed via a microscope.

Green Guerrillas believes that by empowering people in knowing about the likes and dislikes of microbes, they can not only become better farmers, but also produce healthier food. They also focus on worm and animal husbandry. 

Worms, Akim points out, remain the future and salvation for waste stabilisation and self-sufficiency.  

Meanwhile, with animal husbandry, the Green Guerrillas have developed methods of using domesticated animals to assist with the production of soil by simply allowing them to follow their natural behaviour. 

“Pigs and chickens play an important role in this sector of regenerative agriculture.  Learning to care for and nurture livestock brings us closer to closing the loop and dancing with nature,” Akim highlights.

Last line of defence 

Their emphasis on unemployed youth is linked to their belief that agriculture is South Africa’s last line of defence against poverty. And by addressing youth unemployment through agriculture, poverty can be eradicated. 

Future farmer and agripreneur, Sinethemba Matina, is currently being trained about the ins-and-outs of agro-processing. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Future farmer and agripreneur Sinethemba Matina is currently being trained about the ins and outs of agro-processing. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

One of the participating future farmers is Sinethemba Matina. Growing up in Bedford, between Adelaide and Somerset East in the Eastern Cape, he had limited exposure to new farming practices. “Back home it was always about household consumption, making sure there’s food on the table tonight.” 

After moving to Cape Town with his parents, Matina ended up at Ukhanyo Primary School where he was introduced to the Green Guerrillas and also met Akim. This has been a life-changing experience.

“I was exposed to agriculture in the Eastern Cape, but we weren’t taught about agriculture like we are being taught at Green Guerrillas. There we were only taught to grow spinach, onions and cabbage. We didn’t know anything about composting [and] earth worms,” he explains. 

Planting forward 

Matina adds that he is also learning a thing or two about entrepreneurship. “I almost know how to grow anything, and I am also being exposed to agro-processing. I know now how to breed pigs and process it into bacon, mince, sausage.”

Anki Riemer, is the founder of Nordic Earth who consists of a team of farm experts following the principles of bio-integrated farming methods. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Anki Riemer is the founder of Nordic Earth, which consists of a team of farm experts following the principles of bio-integrated farming methods. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

One day, he hopes to own a butchery while also inspiring future learners about farming and agriculture.

“My message to other unemployed youth is to wake up and smell the coffee because time is running out and agriculture is the only way to go. It’s the one industry where you can find a lot of things to do.” 

Meanwhile, Akim says it is important to expose unemployed youth to the dynamics of entrepreneurship and skills development. Youth should be taught how to make money, he says.  

“If we are going to pull ourselves out of this hole of having huge numbers of unemployment, we will have to look at ways of generating money. That’s why looking at agriculture to do this, is so important,” Akim emphasises. 

ALSO READ: From zero to hero: Why crawl when you can fly?

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