“Young black farmers want to work the land”
A new generation of farmers works the land with fervor. They are young. They are committed and not afraid to get their hands dirty. This is the view of Katlego Kgopotse, the Gauteng youth leader of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa).
However, in a country where 37% of the population are young people, opportunities are desperately needed, Kgopotse believes. The agricultural sector is filled with young people who have great minds and the potential to change the landscape for the better.
“Young people want to participate in agriculture,” he told Food For Mzansi. “It’s our economic basket. We need more young people to actively take charge [opportunities in the economy]. I believe that our young people have immense talent.
This, says Kgopotse, was also evident during a recent Afasa Youth Mountain peak. “There is a desire to work the land. This one, I can guarantee. They are eager to know more and as young people of Afasa, we will take them by the hand to enable them to reach their destiny.
The burden of unemployment
Agriculture is the only way to get Mzansi out of mass unemployment, adds Kgopotse who is also an AgriSETA certified agricultural facilitator. In his relationships with young farmers, he has noticed phenomenal growth.
“I work with different farmers across the country, so I help them in areas such as irrigation, soil management, good environment, crop production and many other things. This is my passion.”
Kgopotse has had many successes criss-crossing the country.
“I developed a community project in Limpopo [as part of mining giant] Anglo American sustainability program to help communities plant fresh produce. Even today, this 2015 project is still in progress and produced for major retailers.
He says the only way to truly feed a child is to teach him to work the land. “Projects need to be sustainable so that even after we’re gone it still helps the farmers and the community in particular.”
“Unaffordable agency commission”
Access to markets remains the biggest challenge for promising black farmers, warns Kgopotse. Many can’t even afford the standard 15% agency commission required to get their fresh produce to retailers.
“We really have to fight against this problem of access to markets. A farmer has to go through markets like Joburg or Tshwane to get his produce to big retailers, but this comes at a cost. Once such a percentage is taken from a farmer, how much does he have left? They still have operational costs which also increase steadily. Farmers are left with nothing. It is not durable and it will not lead to [the kind of] creating the jobs we want.
But isn’t a big part of the answer in continuing education so that young farmers can be empowered to build bigger agricultural businesses?
Kgopotse says, “We still have a long way to go because some people go into farming for the love of money and it doesn’t work. [Some have] all the necessary resources but lack knowledge that ends up not working.
Meanwhile, the young farmer looks forward to a year filled with farmer development workshops and other activities.
“We have a project between Afasa Youth and CSIR (the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) focusing on agribusiness. In collaboration with the French Embassy, we also have a genetics project and our one hectare, one farmer project. We are [hoping] to have at least 500 farmers in the country.
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