Mpumalanga

Putting more youth into agriculture

MEC_Vusi_Shongwe_with_some_members_of_the_Siyaquba_eMalahleni_Coop_and_their_Mentor.jpg

None can deny that the transformation of South African society in a manner that benefits the previously disadvantaged is a noble goal, but the march of progress cannot be sustained unless the people are able to feed themselves. Fortunately, government has the challenge of food security firmly within its sights. Foremost among provinces in this regard is Mpumalanga, where MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, Mr Vusi Shongwe, has the honour to preside over two important schemes for not only putting food on the table, but also empowering people to create their own livelihoods. We find out more about the Fortune 40 Young Farmer Incubation Programme and the Phezukomkhono Mlimi initiative.

Make no bones about it: radical economic transformation is inescapable, as Shongwe explains: “As defined by the President of the Republic of South Africa, the Hon. JG Zuma during his 2017 State of the Nation Address, radical economic transformation is the ‘fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor’. There can be no denying that the economy needs to be radically transformed, which requires all of us to think afresh on the roles of institutions in economic governance and resource allocation. So the economy definitely does need a major overhaul.”

To achieve such a bold vision, audacious initiatives are required. One such is the Fortune-40 Young Farmers Incubator programme announced by the Premier of Mpumalanga, Mr David Mabuza, during his State of the Province Address in February 2015. A total of R80 million was set aside and 20 youth-owned SMMEs and 20 youth-owned cooperatives were recruited into an incubator programme operated under a strategic partnership with the private sector to mentor future commercial farmers.

“The main objective,” says Shongwe, “is to address the socio-economic challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. But most importantly, our aim is to develop an army of new, young and black agricultural entrepreneurs.”

The incubation programme works to provide accredited agricultural technical training to empower the beneficiaries of the programme in order to develop their talent, skills and knowledge for farming. As Shongwe elaborates, “Beneficiaries are put under the stewardship of a competent incubator who takes them through an intensive on-the-farm training programme. The programme has two legs whereby 70% focuses on practical, while the remaining 30% is theoretical. The stewardship entails mentoring and coaching in entrepreneurship, skill development and experiential training.”

Since it was announced, the campaign has spread throughout Mpumalanga, improving the fortunes of an ever-increasing number of farmer-entrepreneurs.

Shongwe confirms: “So far we have 17 farms, spread in all four Districts in the province. There is also a Cabinet decision that the Department increase the number of Fortune 40 projects by 15 more farms, meaning the number of beneficiaries or incubates will increase, thereby creating opportunities for more young people. The Department is, among others, currently working with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to look at issues of securing land and farms that we can utilize for this purpose.”

The programme has already racked up considerable achievements. “Seven farms are already in full production, namely Muhlomube and Zoeknog near Acornhoek and Alandale, all in the Bushbuckridge area, Barberton Environmental Centre in uMjindi, Kwaggafontein in Thembisile Hani Municipality, Elandspruit in Steve Tshwete Municipality, and Delmas in Victor Khanye Municipality.

“No doubt a lot of job opportunities have been created for the beneficiaries. Temporary jobs are also created during planting and production period. These farms are already supplying their produce to schools and hospitals through the Government Nutrition Programme, a guaranteed market for them. Temporary job opportunities were also created during the development of infrastructure such as fencing, irrigation infrastructure, greenhouses, chicken houses and farm buildings. Note that there was no infrastructure in all the farms, and everything had to start from scratch, hence few other projects are still lagging behind, but getting there.”

Those who take part in the programme may rest assured that they are receiving qualifications that are of the highest quality and commercial relevance. “The trainings offered are AgriSeta accredited, and they are mainly on plant and animal production,” Shongwe explains. “Let us note that many of the beneficiaries are young people, previously unemployed, who could not further their studies beyond matric due to circumstances, including not qualifying for tertiary university entrance. But there is also an aquaculture partnership with the University of Stellenbosch, of which the group whose project focus on aquaculture visited the University on a fact-finding mission earlier this year, to gain exposure to aquaculture and bench marking.”

Fortune 40 farms began by supplying the government integrated School Nutrition Programme with vegetables such as butternuts, spinach, cabbages, carrots, tomatoes and onions. Now they are set to spread their wings.

“It should be noted that the Fortune 40 programme turned two years old in September 2017,” Shongwe attests. “The Government Nutrition Programme is merely a launching pad for Fortune 40 to test their strength and ability to meet the demand. Other possible markets are being explored, including export.”

A further aim of the Fortune 40 programme is to give impetus to cooperative development and small business development support.

“The government has placed more impetus on cooperative development and SMMEs,” Shongwe explains. “The Fortune 40 beneficiaries participate through cooperatives rather than individual farmers. The Department promotes cooperative development as the cooperative system has been proven to be working in other countries such as Argentina, Venezuela and in most G7 countries. The successful business in these countries are cooperatives listed in the Stocks Exchange. There is no better motivation than this.”

Of course, none of this could take place without government support. “Government assists the cooperatives through provisioning of production inputs such as chemicals, fertilizers, seeds, and animal feed in case of livestock farming, including mechanisation,” says Shongwe.

“In terms of infrastructure, government has invested mechanisation, production inputs, and farm infrastructure such as packhouses, fencing, drip and centre pivot irrigation, greenhouses, park-home villages for beneficiaries, pump-houses, animal handling facilities and cattle, electricity and water reservoir,” he continues.

All of this investment has yielded good returns. “Of course, the return on investment is good; there is value for money for the investment that went into the development of the farms and the training programme. The beneficiaries can practice independently from the Incubators/Mentors. We are currently exploring social contracts with the private sector, including Afgri and other strategic partners.”

In a time marked by increasing concerns about food security, government is resolutely committed to getting people fed, and the rural areas are no exception. While the Fortune 40 entrepreneurs are honing their skills, the rest of the community is not being neglected. On the contrary, thanks to the Department, old and young alike are able to invest in their own future wellbeing by tilling the soil of their native land.

“Food security is a concern in rural areas in particular, and in the country in general,” Shongwe avers. “We still have areas where infant mortalities are as a result of malnutrition. Otherwise South Africa is far much better than some of its counterparts in the continent.

It is however comforting to note that SADC is trying all it can to curb, or decrease the rate of infant mortality through various interventions by their governments.

“Fortunately the Department launched a revived extension and advisory support programme called Phezukomkhono Mlimi, which, unlike the previous programme that aimed at small-scale farmers, now also targets ordinary households, schools, creches, Home-Based Care centres, Drop-In centres and Churches, to support them with production inputs, to encourage them to use whatever small piece of land in their yards, to establish food gardens.

The programme has received much appreciation from traditional leadership, and ordinary citizens throughout the province. Through Phezukomkhono Mlimi, we encourage households to establish backyard gardens to fight hunger.

We call upon the elderly to let their children work on these backyard gardens, so that they begin at an early age to love agriculture”, concluded MEC Shongwe. 

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