Young farmers: economics is key to ‘true transformation’

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Mzansi is good at talking about opportunities for his youth. But young people themselves feel that these opportunities only benefit a few.

As the country marks 46 years since the Soweto Youth Uprising, Andile Matukane, a hydroponic farmer from Gauteng, believes real transformation is an illusion.

She not only has a problem with the lack of transformation, employment opportunities and integration of young people in the sector, but also with the quality of these opportunities.

“In the sector, young people are told that the opportunities [will be created for them]to find out that they are talking about internships [and] only a few have the opportunity.

She insists that internships are not really opportunities.

“In terms of funding, you have to have something to ’emerge’. How to get out of an internship? Some grant funding requires at least three years of operational activity [experience]. How can I start this business without the grant, coming from an internship? »

Young people want to join the sector, she says, but due to a number of challenges they face, they eventually give up along the way.

Andil Matukane. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi

Own opportunities, unfavorable banking system

Accessing opportunities seems like a onerous task for young people in the sector, says Unati Speirs, newly appointed board director of Hortgro.

“I don’t think the country has done enough to transform the sector. Young people do not have enough opportunities; they create it for themselves. The rise of young people in the agricultural sector is not due to the opportunities created for them, it is to them that they create jobs for themselves.

“Yes, things are better compared to the past and many improvements have been made,” she says, “but too many young people are sitting with agricultural qualifications and cannot have any opportunities.”

Unati Speirs, board director of Hortgro. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi

Speirs says aspects of the banking sector should also be reformed to transform the industry, including banking for 18-35 year olds as capital builders.

“This category of bank could change the industry and encourage agricultural GDP growth. Farms that have been passed on to the next generation require new capital and restrictions on the same farm could see these farms lose their previously invested capital.

A shift in funding towards youth for agricultural purposes could change the outlook for the sector; Banking packages with services will make farming attractive to this generation, Speirs believes.

READ ALSO: Youth and farmers in Mzansi: The joys and the hard truths

The economic freedom of entrepreneurship

Young farmers like Byron Booysen believe that transformation can only be achieved through economic freedom. Only when young people play a bigger role in the country’s GDP can the country say it has done enough for young people, Booysen told Food For Mzansi.

He says agriculture offers a lot of career options, but instead of becoming agricultural entrepreneurs, many young people become agricultural participants. This means that young people become workers in other organisations, he says.

While there’s nothing wrong with that, he says, “in terms of transforming the agricultural sector, we’re not doing enough.”

What Booysen finds frustrating is that the ecosystems on which young farmers can truly thrive don’t yet exist.

“The system asks us to be engineers and create our new markets, if not to make the link with existing markets. So you’re basically forced to engage with already self-sustaining ecosystems,” he explains.

The young farmer says many of his peers benefited from government support and later grew. However, he asks that the government use farmers like him to empower others, “so that we can create transformative ecosystems and units, because we have the right mindset to do business and create transformative engagements. and teach our people to help themselves”. ”.

Byron Booysen, a tomato farmer and commodity-based beneficiary, says it's informative, but some things can change within the program.  Photo: Matshediso Experience (Casidra)
Western Cape farmer Byron Booysen. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi

Where are the young commercial farmers?

While acknowledging some of the work done by the government to transform the sector, Agri YouTuber and farmer Kwanda Kwenzeka agree there is still a lot to do.

“There is a very small number of young people involved in the sector. Last time I checked in 2019, only 5% of commercial farmers were between 25 and 34 years old. 70% of commercial farmers were over 50 years old. This shows that there is very little transformation in the sector,” Kwenzeka says.

The biggest problem? He believes that there is no clarity on the support measures for those who wish to join the agricultural sector, especially with regard to agricultural production and active participation in the country’s food production system. In fact, he believes, the support is non-existent.

ALSO READ: Youth month: South African agriculture gets a makeover

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