What does the future hold for South African agriculture? On National Youth Day, we think there is no better way of answering this question than hearing the minds of ten young agriculturists who are going to shape that future.
Lusanda Mkhwanazi (20), second year agriculture student, KwaZulu-Natal
“I’m a livestock farmer in the making – just watch!” vows Lusanda Mkhwanazi passionately. “Ten years from now I’ll be among the best beef producers in KZN and owning one of the biggest feedlots in the country.”
He fell in love with agriculture after conducting research on the industry as a grade 11 student. He wanted to pursue something other than the popular professions of medicine, engineering or law.
“Why is it that everyone is chasing office jobs? There are plenty of opportunities in agriculture. We need to boost our employment rate and agriculture is the answer.
“Today, when I tell people that I’m studying agriculture they applaud me for it. I plead with my peers to really wake up and consider agriculture. Not everybody can be a doctor, you know.”
Rita-Theresa du Plessis Van der Mescht (28), Grootvlei, Mpumalanga
Farming has been a part of Rita-Theresa du Plessis Van der Mescht’s life since she was a little girl growing up on her father’s farm near Grootfontein in Mpumalanga.
She admits that she never thought she would fit the mould of a “farmer”. She doesn’t consider farming to be a very “sexy” field, she says.
“Most people still think a farmer is an old, white man with two-tone khaki apparel and stuff like that, but actually it is much more than that picture.”
Today she is breaking those stereotypical moulds of what it means to be a farmer in Mzansi. So much so that last year she received recognition for her efforts in her business Shirita Boerdery, as a finalist in the Agri Gauteng young farmer of the year.
Shirita Boerdery is a cattle and maize enterprise in Grootfontein, which specializes in Brahmans and Simmentals.
“We need the youth. They are the future generation. More needs to be done to attract them to the field (of agriculture) and teach them about farming.”
Kgomotso Gaebolae (25), new goat farmer, Northern Cape
Less than a year ago Kgomotso Gaebolae was inspired by young people in the Northern Cape who made farming look “sexy”. Now she has fallen in love with the sector and hopes to have a long career.
“I was inspired by young people and I hope to one day do the same for others,” she says.
“Truth be told, I noticed that a group of youngsters in our community started farming and I understand why. They looked like they had so much passion for what they were doing, and I wanted to be part of it.”
Kgomotso, who started farming with 13 goats and today own 23, believes the sooner you start farming the better.
“Farming is challenging, I know now. But when you are passionate about something, no matter the challenges, you continue to farm forward.”
Pfananani Augustine Nemasisi (29), Louis Trichardt, Limpopo
This young man believes hard work will open doors in the agricultural industry. His one goal in life, he says, is to break the misconception that youth are lazy and know nothing about farming.
Nemasisi is the founder of AVM Angela Farming, a 20-hectare vegetable enterprise along the Louis Trichardt/Madombidzha road at the foot of the Soutpansberg mountain range in Limpopo.
The land was gifted to him by his parents three years ago, and today he runs a thriving vegetable business where he produces cabbage, green pepper, spinach, and tomatoes.
Growing up in Mukula near the Thulamela area, he never imagined that he would become a farmer.
“Agriculture was never associated with blackness. We grew up knowing that this thing was for the white people. So being a young farmer and a black one for that matter makes me feel like I can bring the change to inspire other black people to see this thing is possible. We can also be part of it.”
Nokuthula Tlalajoe (31), Bloemfontein, Free State
Nokutula Tlalajoe was drawn to agriculture through her passions for science and genetic engineering.
In 2015, together with her farmer husband, Petso Mokhatla, she founded the Atlehang Merino on Eden Farm in Bloemfontein. She is a qualified biochemist and science has fuelled her agricultural pursuits.
“When I learned that you can actually engineer your animals without necessarily changing the genomic make-up, I was very interested to see where it can take us.”
The business was established to secure generational wealth for her three children, Atlehang, Ahanang and Amohelang.
The journey towards her vision has not been easy. “They say there is a lot of support. You can open ten websites and you will see there is a lot of support for black women specifically, but then when you actually tap into these opportunities the doors aren’t as open as they are made to seem.”
It takes hard work to make it in this industry, she advises young people. “At the end of the day you need to work very hard to be known, to be seen, to be heard.”
Tumelo Olifant (30), cattle farmer in Hartswater, Northern Cape
Being a livestock farmer is what Tumelo Olifant is most passionate about. It has been a dream come true for him to be able to farm 420 hectares of land.
“It has really been amazing to change the idea of what a farmer is and the idea that agriculture is only for uneducated people, as it was said in high school.
“To be honest it is beautiful to see a young black person thriving in this industry not only for myself, but my peers as well.”
Tawfeeq Brinkhuis (26), operations manager in Philippi, Western Cape
26-year-old Tawfeeq Brinkhuis is born from a generation of Western Cape farmers. He serves as the operations manager for his family’s poultry enterprise, Chamomile Farming, in Philippi.
Living in the midst of a pandemic has been challenging, says Brinkhuis. He is honoured that he is at the centre of change in the agricultural landscape.
As an essential worker throughout the pandemic lockdown, he believes that farmers are some of the lucky few. Most youth in South Africa are currently unemployed, with the problem exacerbated by the pandemic.
“In today’s life, because of the coronavirus a lot of people have been losing their jobs. We are essential in the pandemic just as much as any doctor or nurse.”
Siyabonga Ngcobo (32), agricultural lecturer in KZN
As a young agricultural lecturer at the Cedara College of Agriculture in KZN, Siyabonga Ngcobo can attest to there being a big misconception as to what this vibrant industry is actually all about.
The 32-year-old says the biggest misconception is that agriculture is a “dirty” job.
“The problem with that is that a lot of youngsters in this country have not done enough research about the industry.
“When you talk agriculture, they’re only thinking about primary agriculture (planting and animal breeding). Not the sales reps, agronomists or economists. In fact, a lot of the youth in this country actually have no idea about what goes on behind the scenes in the agri industry,” he exclaims.
Ngcobo believes that everything revolves around agriculture and he is humbled by the role – sharing agri knowledge – he plays in the sector.
“My primary role is to instill an idea. It is not to teach them what to do, but rather to give them a bit of inspiration and knowledge to become better farmers or agriculturalists.
“I always tell my students my job is not help you pass. You can take the information that I have provided and convert it to information that you need and use it to actually make a difference.”
Olerato Potso (22), farm manager from Ganyesa, North West Province
Under the watch of his grandfather Olerato Potso (22) manages their 20-year-old family farming business.
Agriculture is all Potso has ever known. “I was practically born in agriculture,” he exclaims.
“I’m proud to be a young man in agriculture. I can only hope that I will inspire other young people to follow in my footsteps and pursue agriculture.”
Their family farm produces sunflower, beans and mielies and they also farm with cattle. Potso recalls showing interest in farming at the age of 13 when his grandfather took him along whenever he made visits to where the cattle were kept.
“This is an industry I love, and I wouldn’t prefer any other sector to work in.”
Potso encourages young farmers not to rush into farming. “Don’t say you want to be a farmer just because somebody told you that you’ll get rich. This industry is hard work. It takes long before you see results. It’s like a tortoise, but eventually you will get there,” he says.
Kutlwana Tisane (22), hydroponics manufacturer in Rustenburg, North West
Kutlwana Tisane is one of Mzansi’s many revolutionary youngsters in the agri-sector.
Tisane thinks that the future for young people in the sector looks rather bright from where he’s standing.
“It’s not an “old man’s” game anymore. Especially with the digital era coming into play,” he says.
The young agripreneur ventured into manufacturing because they felt that most of the markets in the industry was already saturated. They wished to chew on a different piece of the agricultural pie.
“When I look at the manufacturing companies in agriculture, most of them are either predominantly white-owned or people that are over the age of 30 years old. So, for us going into that space really shows youngsters that it is actually possible.
Tisane says he would like to urge his peers to grab a hold of the opportunities in agriculture.
“The industry is developing under our feet and there are opportunities in agriculture, whether you have an IT, technology, business, or human resources background,” Tisane says.