More youth is needed to prop up agriculture
THE AVERAGE age of a South African farmer is 62 years, and in Australia and the US it’s 55 years. To boot, our farming population has dwindled from 128 000 in the 80s to approximately 30 000 in 2014.
So, why aren’t our youth flocking into the sector?
A debate surrounding the recent Nampo 2017 highlighted possible reasons: a lack of information around accessing funds and land; no true collaboration between traditional farmers and incoming younger ones; under-utilised agri colleges; poor governance and bad management of these colleges; as well as the appointment of unsuitable staff.
Our young people need to be educated around the plethora of career opportunities within the sector. Then, the sector needs to have a collective go at the prevailing myths: that there are no enticing careers for the youth.
Unless the agricultural sector embarks on this “campaign” with chutzpah, we’re unlikely to capture and retain the attention of our youth (and benefit from their muchneeded expertise).
The R14 billion citrus industry is pleased to be making significant strides in this quest. In fact, the Citrus Growers’ Association of southern Africa established the Citrus Academy Bursary Fund back in 2006. And to date, they’ve awarded more than 600 bursaries to 250 students (more than half of them women). The Bursary Fund supports students who are enrolled in registered post-school education institutions in South Africa, and supports fields of study related to citrus production and research.
Asanda Mditshwa, who hails from Bizana in the Eastern Cape, successfully applied for the Citrus Academy Bursary Fund (CABF) in 2007. He was in the second year of his studies towards a BSc degree at the University of Fort Hare. Fast-forward to 2015, and seven Citrus Academy bursaries later, and we have a graduate with a PhD in horticulture from the University of Stellenbosch.
During his studies, the academy afforded Mditshwa the opportunity to travel extensively whilst gaining invaluable practical industry experience. But he laments the lack of information provided to young people around career opportunities in agriculture; and, particularly the need for adequate career guidance for blacks.
Mditshwa recalls a lack of funds as a student, so dire that he nearly suffered non-disclosure of his first-year academic results. And he’s grateful for the timely assistance of the fund and, of course, a dogged determination to achieve success.
With a passion for research, Mditshwa enjoys that this forms a significant part of his role as horticulture lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His is but one of the many success stories.
The Citrus Academy also provides ongoing financial support to BEE citrus enterprises, to develop their internal capacity. Eligible individuals within these businesses then have access to quality formal education.
The Nampo 2017 debate also emphasised an acute need for qualified farmers – the only way to farm successfully. And this speaks to the Citrus Academy’s no-compromise focus on “releasing” qualified, competent individuals into the industry – whether they opt to explore the science that sustains this fascinating industry, farm with citrus, or explore any of the other options.
Stats SA’s recent announcement of South Africa’s technical recession is sobering. And, though no growth in employment was recorded in agriculture, the sector has rallied after eight consecutive quarters of contraction. In fact, the Agricultural Chamber reports a 22 percent quarter-on-quarter growth (adjusted seasonally, and annualised). The chamber also confirms the agricultural sector workforce currently clocking in at 875 000 jobs. This constitutes 5 percent of SA’s entire labour force (double that of mining).
It was Youth Month – the 41st anniversary month of the Soweto uprisings on June 16, 1976 – an opportunity to celebrate our youth. Yet we lament the soaring numbers of their unemployment. We need many more agricultural success stories like Mditshwa’s, and – importantly – for them to be told. This is one way the sector can attract young minds.