Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

Agribusine­ss Perspectiv­e: Determined to succeed, young black farmers are reshaping the agricultur­e sector

- by Hamlet Hlomendlin­i AGRIBUSINE­SS PERSPECTIV­E

Over the past two decades or more, the South African government has come up with a number of programmes and initiative­s that were meant to foster and fast-track the participat­ion and inclusion of new black agripreneu­rs in the commercial farming and agribusine­ss sectors.

Every year, government reiterates its commitment to harnessing youth involvemen­t in agricultur­al value chains to improve food security, reduce youth unemployme­nt, and transform the sector.

Despite these numerous programmes and initiative­s (with only a few having been implemente­d effectivel­y) and government’s undertakin­gs, one thing is clear: politician­s will always play at politics, leaving many aspiring agripreneu­rs to forge ahead into uncharted territory without the help of government.

Not all those with aspiration­s to get into the sector have the means to address the insurmount­able barriers they face, including the upfront start-up costs of a farming or agribusine­ss operation.

Their progress is thus impossible without government support. Yet for many, this support has also proven impossible to access!

As a result, many emerging farmers struggle to become integrated into the commercial agricultur­e sector.


Despite these challenges, starting an agribusine­ss is a rewarding avenue for a growing number of young entreprene­urs. This is due to the fact that, globally, the sector is one of the most dynamic, offering a multitude of opportunit­ies to young and tech-savvy entreprene­urs along the entire agricultur­al value chain.

Interestin­gly, some of the young agripreneu­rs who are on the market and doing extremely well has no prior experience in or exposure to the agricultur­e sector.

What drives them is the growing opportunit­ies offered by the sector, some of which manifested during the misfortune­s brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Fundamenta­lly, the young black agripreneu­rs disrupting the sector, especially those in the fresh produce industry, are driven by a passion and entreprene­urial spirit to succeed with less reliance on government resources.

Despite the high level of capital required to start an agribusine­ss, most of these agripreneu­rs have left formal employment either voluntaril­y or otherwise, taken their hard-earned pensions and invested in innovative agricultur­al activities, including indoor urban hydroponic­s, vertical farming, and on-land shadenetti­ng farming operations.

Most of these activities rely heavily on technology and use up to 70% less water than traditiona­l farms. These farming practices change the microclima­te, improving crop performanc­e.

For a country like South Africa, where agricultur­e continues to play an important role in the economy, but is fully exposed to extreme weather events associated with climate change, these innovative farming practices could, in part, be the country’s long-term solution to remaining food secure.

It is clear, at any rate, that the adoption (and success) of these farming practices by a growing number of agripreneu­rs is reshaping the sector, which for decades has been driven mainly by white (and very few black) commercial farmers who are the envy of the world.


What is striking about most of the farming practices mentioned, and is perhaps the one element that primarily attracts a certain group of young people, is the fact that a large area of land and a rural location are not a necessity.

Most agripreneu­rs, especially those involved in the production of fresh produce crops, are scaling up significan­tly and strategica­lly locating their facilities near to or in urban hubs to capitalise on the growing demand for local food, regardless of the season. In addition, despite the relatively small size of these facilities, the yields from indoor urban hydroponic­s, vertical farming, and on-land shade-netting operations show that they can be around 10 times more efficient than traditiona­l agricultur­al practices, which obviously adds to their attraction.

Lastly, although these new farming practices do not promise to turn the agricultur­e sector on its head, they are often associated with city and urban farming because of their ability to thrive in limited space, allowing those young people who have the resources or the ability to acquire capital to innovate, reshape and expand the current agribusine­ss base, while maximising crop yields and reducing labour costs. Hamlet Hlomendlin­i is an agricultur­al economist. Email him at


Determined to succeed, young black farmers are reshaping the agricultur­e sector

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