Thoko Didiza’s Agricultural Game Changer Could Boost Hungry Young Farmers

Thoko Didiza’s Agricultural Game Changer Could Boost Hungry Young Farmers

  • Minister of Agriculture Thoko Didiza started rolling out 10 000 extension officers to assist farmers in South Africa
  • A study revealed agriculture provides sustainable employment among the youth but most farmers lack skills
  • Experts and farmers hail the extension officers as a game-changer in SA's agricultural sector

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By Farai Diza - Freelance journalist

Exciting times lie ahead for South African youth who would like to venture into the vastly profitable agricultural world.

A blueprint that is likely to change the face of agriculture in the country is about to roll into motion and some industry experts have weighed in on the issue.

Thoko Didiza, the agriculture and land reform minister, speaks during a swearing-in ceremony in Pretoria, South Africa, on Thursday, May 30, 2019. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Thoko Didiza's plans to bring in 10 000 more agricultural extension officers. Image: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Agricultural Minister Thoko Didiza recently announced her intentions to bring in at least 10 000 agricultural extension officers. This is in line with her department's bid to boost the development of the land reform programme beneficiaries and smallholder farmers.

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Didiza made the announcement during the Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion approach Webinar. These officers will trot from the largest farms to even the smallest subsistence farms.

Over the past few months, South Africa has seen an increase in youth taking up farming as a livelihood. From cattle ranching to vegetables, the future of South Africa's food industry belongs to these enterprising youth.

An analysis by United Nations Sustainable Development Goals reveals just how agriculture provides sustainable employment, hence the need to adequately equip farmers with the necessary skills.

According to AgriSA executive director Christo van der Rheede, the industry would thrive under the youth if accountability was mooted.

"The growth of commercial farming should not be taken for granted. Agriculture is and remains a high risk business. Accountability and consequence management are instrumental in this industry," he said.

The government has shown renewed commitment to rekindle the class of black commercial farmers deliberately destroyed by the 1913 Native Land Act. The intention of roping in 10 000 agricultural extension officers is a mighty move - a 'queen move' in a chess game.

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Marlene Louw, a senior agricultural economist at Absa Agribusiness, believes this move could easily string along the national growth and development strategy.

"Specific practical issues are currently constraining the agriculture industry. Training is one of them and above that list.
"The appointment of 10 000 agricultural extension officers will go a long way in addressing the technical assistance deficit that is constraining the industry. 2 447 extension officers have already been appointed and that is a positive sign," Louw said.

This initiative will increase the productivity of smallholder farmers and aid their income through improving productivity.

Farming is big business

It will also empower farmers to embrace the concept of farming as a business. Farming has become a big investment. It is no longer a matter of adding cheaper food to the table.

A smallholder farmer, Leshole Nkawane, who is based in Northam, a farming town in the Waterberg District Municipality in Limpopo, hailed the latest development.

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Nkawane is also a member of the Limpopo Young Farmers network, which has a strong drive on social media to attract emerging young farmers.

"This is what we have been waiting for over the years. Farming in a garden is one thing but farming on a commercial scale is another. You will find many young people striving. Take my area for instance. It is a farming community and many young people help their parents. But they want to start farming on a bigger scale.
"They, however, lack the know how and end up giving up and going to the cities in search of employment. In a different scenario they themselves can become employers. So I think the government has really instigated something big here," he said.

Nkawane added that farming is not for the faint-hearted and success does not happen overnight.

"There are not many examples, for instance, of young female farmers who have risen from humble beginnings to become empowered entrepreneurs," he stated.

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That is why skills training and development are on top of the extension officers' agenda. The initiative will also open up avenues for producers to start markets as opposed to starting with production and later seeking markets.

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South Africa is facing astronomically high unemployment rates but smallholder farmers will play a pivotal role in creating employment. This is a real empowerment humdinger. The sort of initiative which provides hope in a challenging environment.

But are South African youth prepared to take up this initiative or the thought of wearing overalls and gumboots scares them?

The Agricultural Extension Officers and the evidence-based service they provide to farmers are already reaping rewards in smallholder horticulture co-operatives – like Ratanang Co-operative in Mankweng, Limpopo, and Atlas Fresh Produce Primary Co-operative in Bulwer, KZN – recent beneficiaries that benefited from advisory services.

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The youth need to start realising the high potential of agriculture and the concept of farming as a business. Van der Rheede added that this was essential in reducing unemployment among the youth.

"Young people in South Africa account for more than a third of the population. Yet the latest research data shows that youth account for 63% of the unemployed. The goal must be to inspire young people to consider the agri-food sector as a viable and profitable business opportunity,” he said.

Young farmer paves the way

In previous report on profitable farming, Briefly News wrote about a young farmer with the Twitter handle @new_shana, who shared a heartwarming celebration post after he invested in 40 hectares of farming land - something he said took blood, sweat and tears to do.

In the highly inspirational and motivational post, the young man also explains that he is now working overtime to find people to invest in the property and this has definitely not been something easy to do.

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"A 40-hectare investment - Blood and Sweat!!! Going insane looking for investors. Some investors pulling out midsession! This coming season we double our production! 100 hectares here we come!!! #FarmingWithShana," he captioned some snaps of the beautiful farm.

Very soon many supportive locals were in the comment section congratulating him and sharing various messages of support and encouragement with him.

@sikhosana_john said:

"I'll be lying if I say I'm not proud of you guys. I'm am super proud of you. I wish you all the best. You are proving a lot of people so wrong. I respect you. You deserve all you wish for... Ngiyanihlonipha and Ngiyanithanda."

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