A new generation of farmers are working the land with fervour. They are young. They are committed and they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty. This is the view of Katlego Kgopotse, the Gauteng youth leader of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa).
However, in a country where 37% of the population are youth, opportunities are desperately needed, believes Kgopotse. The agriculture sector is filled with youth who have great minds and the potential to change the landscape for the better.
“Young people are keen on participating in agriculture,” he tells Food For Mzansi. “This is our economic basket. We need more youngsters to actively take charge of [opportunities in the economy]. I do believe our young people have immense talent.”
This, Kgopotse says, was also evident at a recent Afasa youth summit. “There is an appetite to work the land. That one I can guarantee. They are eager to know more and as Afasa youth we will take them by the hand to enable them to reach their destinies.”
The burden of unemployment
Agriculture is the only way to move Mzansi out of mass unemployment, adds Kgopotse who is also an AgriSETA certified agriculture facilitator. In his dealings with young farmers, he has noticed tremendous growth.
“I work with different farmers across the country, So, I help them with matters such as irrigation, soil management, the correct environment, plant production and a whole lot of other things. This is my passion.”
Kgopotse has witnessed many successes while crisscrossing the country.
“I developed a community project in Limpopo [as part of mining giant] Anglo American’s sustainability programme aimed at assisting communities to plant fresh produce. Even today that project from 2015 is still ongoing and producing for big retailers.”
He says the only way to truly feed a child is to teach them how to work the land. “Projects need to be sustainable so that even after we have left, it still assists farmers and the community, in particular.”
‘Unaffordable agency commission’
Access to markets remains the biggest challenge for black up-and-coming farmers, warns Kgopotse. Many cannot even afford the standard 15% agency commission required to get their fresh produce to retailers.
“We must really fight this issue of access to markets. A farmer must go through the likes of Joburg or Tshwane markets to get their produce to big retailers, but that comes at a cost. After such a percentage is taken from a farmer, how much are they left with? They still have operational costs that are also going up regularly. Farmers end up with nothing. That is not sustainable and that will not lead to [the kind of] job creation we want.
But isn’t a big part of the answer in further training so that young farmers can be empowered to build greater agricultural enterprises?
Kgopotse says, “We still have a long way to go because some people just get to farming for the love of money and it does not work out. [Some have] all the necessary resources but lack knowledge which ends up not working out.”
Meanwhile, the young agriculturist looks forward to a year filled with farmer developmental workshops and other activities.
“We have a project between Afasa Youth and CSIR (the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) focusing on agro-processing. In collaboration with the French embassy, we also have a project in genetics and our one-hectare-one-farmer project. We are [hoping] to get at least 500 farmers in the country.”