“We have to actually listen to what young people, who are the future of this agricultural sector and agribusinesses, are saying to us.” These were the words of agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza during a special webinar on the eve of Youth Day.
Speaking to young agriculturists, Didiza pledged her renewed commitment to advancing their cause. Her department, she said, would seek to find solutions for the challenges faced by them.
Youth Day, celebrated annually on 16 June, commemorates the 1976 Soweto uprising and a wave of subsequent protests against apartheid.
Later today, during his virtual Youth Day address, President Cyril Ramaphosa will provide an update on employment interventions while launching SAYouth.mobi.
Meanwhile, during Didiza’s Youth Day webinar, the focus was on assisting the youth to gain access to land, finance and agricultural markets.
The webinar was hosted by Dr Sifiso Ntombela, chief economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC).
Appreciating the younger generation
Didiza said, “A future agricultural sector in South Africa requires it to become inclusive. We need to build a cohort of young producers, both men and women, as well as agribusiness and other entrepreneurs in the space.
“We know that the value chain of agriculture is not only in the production, but it also moves in other sectors, such as agri-logistics and agro-dealers, at the same time the agri-processors.”
Didiza said her department was aware of farmers’ grievances around land acquisition and access, and the lengthy administrative process behind it.
She acknowledged that her own department was guilty of this too. Also, often government and other role players do not consider the wealth of knowledge already available among younger generations.
Speaking on issues surrounding market access and financial support, Didiza said young farmers’ criticism must be taken to heart by government to, ultimately, move the agricultural sector forward.
“In planning ahead, we need to start appreciating that we do have a younger generation that is already there, but who we seek to improve and ensure that we attract more young people [to the sector].”
Meanwhile, participating panellists were unapologetic about how they experienced that government was failing them as young agriculturists.
Founder of Gule Agri Consulting, Ndumiso Gule from KwaZulu-Natal, called on government to go beyond existing programmes and deal with livestock improvement.
Focusing on the poor quality of animals, Gule said this was an issue faced by all black farmers (communal, up-and-coming and commercial) in his province.
The reproduction rates for sheep, cattle or goats were as low as 40%, Gule said, and for commercial black farmers, the average was 65%. This resulted in low profit margins.
Furthermore, Gule said the biggest thief of livestock was not humans but rather a disease called Trichomonas, a venereal disease of cattle which causes devastating economic losses in infected herds.
Gule believed the disease was caused by poor management systems.
“The future is now and without quality livestock, weaner or lamb, weaner pigs, there is no meat value chain. We need to invest in our farmers to produce weaners and have that capacity. For the master plan to work, we need to develop weaners.”
Poultry farmer and host of Living land on SABC2, Kamohele Bombe, cautioned small-scale farmers, particularly poultry producers, to lay aside hasty decisions to supply big retail markets.
The Gauteng-based farmer said this was simply due to compliance regulations. The first thing retailers looked for was an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
“As emerging farmers, do we even understand what that is? In order for you to get the EIA you need about R300 00 as small-scale [farmer]. Do you have that? No, you don’t,” Bombe said.
The farmer advised farmers to look at other, more accessible markets and also encouraged agriculturists to be innovative within the agricultural space.
“We can go on and on saying that government needs to give us access to market, but we, as young people, need be innovative and come up with ways that can make farming easy and attractive.”
Meanwhile Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agbiz, said issues around small-scale compliancy must be examined.
“It cannot be that we will now have smallholder farmers, as well as emerging youth farmers, only participating in certain disaggregated value chains because of either higher transaction costs or prohibitive methods of joining the formal value chain.”
The question that should be asked, according to Sihlobo, was how the youth could gain greater access to retail markets.
Eastern Free State farmer and owner of Mtambo Boerdery, Mkhosana Mtambo, spoke candidly about issues concerning industry middlemen, racial prejudice, and provincial officers failing to provide farmers with up-to-date information.
According to the crop and livestock farmer, many programmes offered by the department did not reach the right people.
“Agricultural departments at provincial levels are not so advanced with technology whereby they can advertise initiatives.
“We want to challenge the minister to improve technology within agricultural offices, both provincial and regional, so that we can get better information and stay informed,” Mtambo said.