Abundant opportunities in agriculture for young people

462A1791The South African agricultural sector, currently worth about 360 billion rand, offers abundant opportunities for young people to become involved in the mainstream economy.

Speaking this week on the popular television programme, Nation in Conversation, Senwes Executive Director Joe Maswanganyi said the world’s population is growing, and people have to eat.  Agriculture is crucial. It is a highly challenging industry, but challenges stimulate growth and with growth come opportunities.

The Nation in Conversation topic this week was labour relations and human resources with particular focus on the development of new farmers and mentorship programmes.

Harvest Time Managing Director Marion Shikwinya listed the most critical challenges that emerging farmers face, namely a lack of skills, technical guidance and access to funding. With real momentum in the emerging farming industry picking up in 2012, Harvest Time Investment was set up as a new company to accommodate an enterprise development initiative involving classroom training followed by practical demonstrations on the farm. The mentorship programme provides a mentor to assist the farmer with his business, coupled with technical advice by an agronomist who guides the farmer through the farming cycle with good farming practices. Access to funding is facilitated through a set of mechanisms put in place to mitigate risks.

Maswanganyi says that Senwes follows very much the same approach as Harvest Time. The developing farmer sector is important from the perspective of the National Transformation Imperative, getting the majority of the people involved in the mainstream economy, creating employment opportunities and building new businesses. Senwes has established credit policies that make it easier for the farmer to acquire financing. To ensure that their risks are mitigated as well, technical support is provided to make sure that the farmers do the right thing at the right time, using the correct crop in the right type of soil, with the correct time cycle for their crops so that they get a better yield. Access to the off-taker is another critical factor and a very technical process, in which Senwes also provides assistance.

In the overall development and mentorship programme there has been a lot of success, says Shikwinya. The farmers have not only managed to repay all their facilities through the different cycles but also banked some very good profits.

Political analyst and writer Max du Preez points out that South Africa has a rich history of successful black farmers in South Africa. Maswanganyi agrees that there are many success stories in the emerging farming sector. The important aspects are that the farmer is able to farm, that he is able to repay his debts, that he is making a profit, and that he is able to farm sustainably from year to year. The farmers are growing as business people, extending their production, and also employing more and more people in the farming sector. They are moving from being developing farmers to becoming commercial farmers. Senwes will continue to look for innovative and integrated solutions to assist the emerging farmer to run his business in a profitable and sustainable way.

Looking to the future, Shikwinya says the effects of climate change will necessitate research and development initiatives, innovation, and less reliance on non-renewable water and electricity resources. Public-private partnerships will promote better coordination and collaboration between all the stakeholders in the value chain to overcome the challenges facing the commercial farmer of the future.

Du Preez says close, loyal relationships between farmers and their workers, with the farmer assuming responsibility for looking after the education of the children of his workers, will boost stability and security in South Africa. More and more farmers are realizing the special contribution they can make towards security and stability by caring for the wellbeing of their workers.

Du Preez adds that transfer of communal land to private ownership will be the big issue in the next five years. The emotion factor in agriculture has to be balanced with economic realities, but it has to happen quickly. There is no time left for ideological debate and emotion. Agriculture will have to accommodate people who are bound to be laid off in the mining, steel and manufacturing sectors to avoid immeasurable hardship. “Agriculture is the only thing we really have to enable people to look after themselves and their families”, he says.