The month of June has become synonymous with celebrating the strides of South Africa’s youth cohort. However, between skyrocketing operational costs, climate change, rural safety, barriers to entry and industry bottlenecks, some young farmers struggle to find real reasons to celebrate.
The reality is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers to operate profitably, says Ian Cunningham, director of Theddan Farms and Agri Western Cape Santam Agriculture Young Farmer of the Year.
In the absence of industry subsidies from government, fuel price hikes, fertiliser costs and electricity have all made it unpleasant to farm in Mzansi, explains the deciduous fruit and wine grape farmer.
“Another thing that is really hampering our growth is the transport network. We are an export-based business [and] Transnet and the ports have really made it difficult. The infrastructure is aging. We do not see the solution coming any time soon.”
And for those not yet actively farming, there are big barriers to entering the industry, “like the purchase price of land and the concerns on labour costs”.
The fruit farmer believes that attracting new talent to the sector is also lacking, probably due to growing perceptions that agriculture is a difficult sector. To address this, Cunningham would like to see an active push from government and the agricultural industry, especially since agriculture has a role to play in decreasing unemployment.
“Overall I am still positive about agriculture. That is the beauty of agriculture: there is always next year and we look forward to the following year.”
Standardised and relevant support
Farmer and owner of Noliqua Legacy, Bayanda Maseko reckons that funding, implements, exposure to markets as well as infrastructure development should accompany youth empowerment.
“I think young people are hungry and eager to learn and to explore the diversity of agriculture in Africa, but it is the exposure to opportunities and information in the sector that lacks.
“Young people think agriculture is [only] tilling the soil, raising chickens or producing an egg. But there are [so many] great opportunities in the sector where one can find an interest and advance [yourself],” says Maseko.
On attracting more young people to the sector, Maseko points out that it is high time “emerging farmers” level up. That way, more young people will be attracted to the sector.
Maseko adds that industry red tape continues to hinder smaller businesses and often leads to the failure of farming activities with loads of potential.
Meanwhile, according to Louisa Bezuidenhout, a farmer in the Northern Cape, the support that comes from government needs to be standardised, but most importantly relevant to the needs of farmers on the ground.
“We do appreciate the [state’s] help, however, as female farmers, we want government to do away with bottlenecks in helping us. Times have changed and the assistance we receive needs to meet the industry times out there.”
‘There’s no right age in farming’
“It is hard to be a farmer in South Africa,” Lochner Eksteen from the Western Cape tells Food For Mzansi.
For Eksteen, a wheat and cattle farmer, greedy middlemen and shortfalls in containing the rampant foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks are particularly challenging.
When it comes to middlemen, Eksteen says there are just too many of them. “Middlemen try to make way too much money out of marketing your produce or products for you. [As a farmer] you cannot market everything yourself because there is not enough time in a day.”
The problem with this is that middlemen often capitalise on this opportunity and scavenge for ways they can make more money for themselves and not the farmer, he says.
“Regardless, I am very positive about farming in South Africa, but I would like to see young farmers taking a stand and having the guts to move forward.”
Eksteen cautions young people against entering the industry expecting instant results. In farming, he explains, one often sees results only after three of five years of farming.
“I think that is the stumbling block for young farmers. They are not willing to wait or spend on something now [for which] they will only get results later.”
The perception among young people that one needs to be a certain age to become farmer is also problematic, Eksteen believes. He advises aspiring farmers to start at a young age and build from there.
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