A poultry farmer who started her business during maternity leave inspired learners at Food For Mzansi’s Youth Month celebrations held in partnership with KC 107.7, one of the oldest community radio stations in South Africa.
Speaking to learners from Roodezandt Secondary School in Saron in the Western Cape, Jo-Andra Gregory said although she did not formally study agriculture, she found opportunities in this sector.
“My journey started in 2016 when I gave birth to my second baby,” said Gregory, who was a recent finalist in Agri Western Cape and Santam Agriculture’s 2021 Young Farmer of the Year competition.
“When he was three days old, I used to put him in a car seat in a black drum in my chicken coop. I started with 300 chicks and a couple of weeks later I sold my first batch of chickens out of the boot of my car in an informal settlement. ”
From radio to science
The socially-distanced Youth Day event included a live radio broadcast on KC 107.7 featuring the popular presenter Bandile Xhosa. He co-hosted the celebrations, which were also live-streamed, with Dawn Noemdoe, Food For Mzansi’s editor: audience and engagement.
Among the many inspirational speakers were Monika Basson, a recruitment specialist from Stellenbosch University’s faculty of agrisciences.
She reminded learners from the rural town of Saron that there was more than one way of achieving one’s goals.
“If you’ve got that dream, that one thing you want to do, then go for it. Set yourself that goal and do it. And just use a different path in getting to that.”
This, she said, was particularly important because success in life is not reserved for learners who are high achievers at school.
The Maties agrisciences faculty was rated as the best faculty for agricultural studies on the African continent. Grade 12 learners are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.
Learners, success won’t fall in your lap
Meanwhile, Dr Cilliers Louw, veterinary liaison officer for the South African Pork Producers’ Association in the Western Cape, told learners that it was notoriously difficult to become a veterinarian in Mzansi.
Currently, there is only one university in the entire country, University of Pretoria, offering veterinary degrees.
“It’s almost as tough as looking into the sun”, he joked.
Louw told learners that the best way to become veterinarians, veterinary nurses, or animal technicians, is to do three things: maintain high mathematics and science marks in school, volunteer at animal welfare facilities and farms, and keep a balanced lifestyle.
“Everyone has good marks. But you need to have balance. With sport, with culture. That makes you a balanced person.”
Emphasising the diversity of the agricultural sector, Khuliliwe Ntombela, a researcher at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), said learners should not limit themselves to just farming.
“You can be an administrator, you can be a bookkeeper, you can be an agricultural economist. There are other opportunities that you might not be aware of that don’t necessarily mean you have to go out into the veld.”
A whole new world
For Saron learners Raquel Ontong and Beantey Jagers the Youth Month event provided rare insight into the sector. They did not previously consider it for study and career opportunities.
Ontong described the day as hugely inspirational, while Jagers said the opportunities was drawn to the diversity of opportunities.
“With the things we learnt today, we now know where to go,” said Ontong. “There are many doors open for us if we do not have money. You do not need to give up. There are people who can help.”
Other panellists included Alexander Gibson, the Western Cape’s new Young Farmer of the Year. Learners were also inspired by Jodene Foster, an ARC researcher, Gary Patience, a livestock farmer from Saron, and Daniël Minnaar, an agricultural economist with Agri Western Cape.
Learners were also introduced to agricultural media opportunities during discussions with Food For Mzansi’s head of news, Lucinda Dordley, and Ricardo Silva, concept editor at YehBaby Digital.