Opinion Piece

It’s time for agriculture to look young, sexy & attractive!

“If you want to make agriculture sexy and attractive start by publishing it in magazines; get a young and attractive person when you are advertising agricultural products.”

This is an assertion by a young, Zambian farmer, Dr. Tamara Happy-face Kaunda, speaking from a packed hall, during an agricultural summit in Zambia.

He believes that if you put an old lady’s picture on the front page of a magazine, a young man in the village will be like: “Wow! This is what agriculture is all about. But if you put a young person who is a farmer, sexy like me- that will make agriculture attractive to a young man reading the magazine. Even the man in the village would be like: Wow! I want to see her, where can I find that woman?”

Dr Kaunda was referring to a certain agriculture magazine which had a picture of an old woman on its cover page.

Her concerns could be right, on all fronts. This is what agriculture has been subjected to for many years in Africa. For instance, when one talks about agriculture, in an African context – we think of some old women or men who are probably illiterate and poor, working on a farm somewhere.

The media has also been ‘deliberate’ in making us believe that there is nothing beautiful and attractive that can be attributed to agriculture besides some burnt-from-the-scorching-sun, poor old toppy or old lady.

Even in the 21st century, we are still struggling to realize that agriculture has been evolving and it has reached a stage where it has to be attractive to the young generation.

If bottled water, dog or cat food could be made to appear in the hands of a sexy and attractive woman during a prime time TV advertisement slot – so can the face of a young, sexy and attractive woman grace a front cover page of any agricultural magazine. It can and it has to be done.

It is time now that, as the sector, we focus our energies in getting more people involved in the sector as professionals and entrepreneurs who will be able to contribute to the agricultural value chain. 

Hence the National Development Plan (NDP) is clear in stating that: “Having a relatively young population can be advantageous, provided the majority of working-age individuals are gainfully employed. The challenge is to convert this into a demographic dividend. This will only be possible if the number of working-age individuals can be employed in productive activities”.

During the virtual Youth Day Debate at the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature, MEC for Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform, Ms. Mase Manopole, was in agreement with the NDP and further indicated that South Africa was fortunate to have a youthful nation- hence the youth development agenda should take a centre stage.

She further added that in order to reach that goal, the National Youth Policy (NYP) 2020-2030- would the perfect vehicle to utilize.  

“The National Youth Policy places young people as key players in the development of their lives, communities, nations, the continent and globally. They possess skills, knowledge, attitudes and capacities that, if well harnessed, can lift South Africa out of this current difficulty of high unemployment, poverty, inequality and underdevelopment,” she said.

She was, however, quick to warn that “the supremacy of youth development alone is not enough.”

“For the youth development agenda to unfold, we need to be responsive and accessible as the Department, by involving key stakeholders who will be willing to work in partnership with young people through partnerships and mentorships. Big agricultural corporations in the Province should be persuaded to partner with young and upcoming agricultural entrepreneurs and professionals to develop their skills, as part of a long-term solution, which will open opportunities for the youth to participate in and take advantage of what the Northern Cape has to offer,” MEC Manopole said.

The NYP is a cross-sectoral policy aimed at effecting positive youth development efforts from local, provincial and national levels in South Africa. 

The policy is driven in the Presidency by the Department for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. 

Meanwhile, the Northern Cape StatSA’s census of 2017, indicated that of the total agricultural production of the Province, field crops contributed 30%, horticulture 31% and animals and animal products contributed 39%.  

According to the survey, these industries, field crops (maize, wheat and lucern); horticulture (table-wine, dried grapes and pecan nuts) and animal & animal products (beef, mutton and wool), are very important to the Province and contributed more than 80% to the total agricultural production.

These figures reflected a fairly equal contribution from field crops, horticulture and animal husbandry, which is quite unique when compared to other Provinces.

These statistics show a good sign of growth in youth empowerment. Beside all the challenges in the Province, of brown locust infestation, Polyphagous shot-hole, drought in some parts of the Province, there is hope that agriculture can be attractive, especially to young and sexy buddies.

Given the opportunity, young people have got the opportunity to excel as agricultural professionals and entrepreneurs and compete successfully in the crop, horticulture, and animal production value chain. 

The Department’s agricultural graduates program, which saw 75 young people being welcomed by the MEC in April 2021 to undergo a two-year internship program, is one of the many opportunities which could see the face of agriculture taking a different shape.

The initiative is in line with the Young Producers and Entrepreneurs Strategy(YPES), which is a mechanism that seeks to attract and promote the sector amongst youth through supporting the establishment of youth owned or managed enterprises.  

These graduates are placed in relevant medium scale, large scale and corporate enterprises, in order to undergo on-the-job training in the areas of production, agro-processing, farm management, governance, business and entrepreneurship (value chain) under the guidance of experienced mentors.   

The main objective is to contribute to accelerated food production through development of a pool of competent young producers, to provide a platform for active participation of youth in Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.  

Furthermore, during the department’s budget presentation speech, MEC Mase Manopole did indicate that in this financial year, the department will be focusing on the capacity building of young farmers- through training and mentorship programs. 

As a drought-stricken province which has aligned itself with the ‘Modern, Growing and Successful Province’ initiative, MEC Manopole said the main objective of the capacity building program was to introduce new agricultural technologies in the sector, as a mitigation strategy, given the effects of climate change. 

“The programme aims to increase and optimize production as well as improve farm profits and address issues of food security in youth-, women- and people with disabilities’ owned farms.”  

The department’s collaboration with the National Youth Development Agency in the province will see more opportunities opening up for youth development and mentorship.  

“We are excited about the partnership with the NYDA in the province. We will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the agency, which will see us collaborating on many fronts.”

It will be more exciting to see the NYDA taking the collaboration with the Department further on issues of research and youth development.

As we awaken the spirit of the young people of 1976- where young people were actively involved in defining the future and country they wanted, I am hopeful that this year, with all the youth policies in place, abounding opportunities and collaborations between the department and private sector, we will achieve the required mandate of creating a more attractive, sexy and beautiful agricultural sector. 

Zandisile Luphahla is the spokesperson to the MEC of the new Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform. 

A former radio presenter and journalist, Luphahla is an award-winning government communicator. He writes in his personal capacity.
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