Mzansi is good at talking about opportunity for its youth. But the young people themselves feel that these opportunities only favour a few.
As the country commemorates 46 years since the Soweto youth uprising, Gauteng hydroponics farmer Andile Matukane believes true transformation is an illusion.
She not only has a problem with lacking transformation, job opportunities and the incorporation of young people into the sector, but also with the quality of these opportunities.
“In the sector, young people are told that opportunities [will be created for them], only to find out that they are talking about internships [and] only a few are given the opportunity.”
She is adamant that internships are not truly opportunities.
“When it comes to funding, one needs to have something to ’emerge’. How do I emerge coming from an internship? Some grant funding requires one to have at least three years of operational business [experience]. How do I start that business without the grant, coming from an internship?”
Young people want to join the sector, she says, but due to a number of challenges they come across, they subsequently give up along the way.
Own opportunities, unfavourable banking system
Access to opportunities seems to be an onerous task when it comes to young people in the sector, says Unati Speirs, newly appointed board director at Hortgro.
“I don’t think the country has done enough to transform the sector. Young people aren’t given enough opportunities; they create it for themselves. The rise of young people seen in the agricultural sector isn’t because of opportunities created for them, it’s them creating jobs for themselves.”
“Yes, things are better compared to the past and many improvements have been made,” she says, “but too many young people are sitting with agri qualifications and cannot get any opportunities.”
Speirs says there are aspects of the banking sector that should also be reformed to transform the sector, including banking for 18- to 35-year-olds as capital builders.
“This category of banking could change the industry and encourage the growth of the agriculture GDP. Farms that have been handed down to the next generation require new capital and restrictions on the same farm could see these farms losing their previously invested capital.”
A shift in financing to young people for agricultural purposes could shift the prospects of the sector; serviced banking packages will make farming attractive to this generation, Speirs believes.
The economic freedom of entrepreneurship
Young farmers such as Byron Booysen believe that transformation can only be realised through economic freedom. It is only once young people play a bigger part in the GDP of the country, that the country can say it has done enough for young people, Booysen tells Food For Mzansi.
He says agriculture boasts a vast number of career options, but instead of becoming agricultural entrepreneurs, many young people become agri participants. This means that young people become workers in other organisations, he says.
Even though there’s nothing wrong with that, he says, “in terms of a transformed agricultural sector, we are not doing enough”.
What Booysen finds frustrating, is that ecosystems that young farmers can really thrive on, do not yet exist.
“The system asks for us to be engineers and to create our new markets, otherwise liaise with existing markets. So, you’re basically forced to engage with ecosystems that are already empowered,” he explains.
The young farmer says many of his peers have enjoyed support from government and have shown subsequent growth. However, he asks that government makes use of farmers like himself to empower other people, “so that we can create ecosystems and processing units, because we have the right mindset to do business and to create transformative engagements and to teach our people to help themselves”.
Where are the young commercial farmers?
Although giving credit for some of the work that has been done by the government to transform the sector, Agri YouTuber and farmer Kwanda Kwenzeka agrees that more needs to be done.
“There is a very small number of youth who are participating in the sector. The last time I checked in 2019, only 5% of commercial farmers were between the ages of 25 and 34. 70% of the commercial farmers were over the age of 50. This shows that there is very little transformation in the sector,” Kwenzeka says.
The biggest problem? He feels that there is no clarity on the support measures for those who are interested in joining the agricultural sector, particularly when it comes to the production side of farming and being active participants in the country’s food production system. In fact, he believes, support is non-existent.
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