US Consul General launches agriculture programme to empower young farmers

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A new agriculture programme launched by the US Consul General, in Durban, in collaboration with the Durban University of Technology and a Mandela-Washington Fellow, wants to empower young farmers with skills to turn their crops into cash.

The Agri-Youth Entrepreneurship Programme aims to benefit young, emerging farmers and their families by empowering them with business skills to supply retailers with fresh, locally-produced merchandise to benefit the economies of small communities.

Sinethemba Masinga, 21, runs a small farm with her parents at Ndwedwe north of Durban. She has been with the Agri-Youth Programme for the past three months. “I’m in vegetable production so it is nuts, tomatoes, mealie meal. I’ve been getting a lot of information; we’ve been equipped with a lot of skill. So, I’ve been more motivated than ever actually ever since I’ve started this programme….and you physically dig into the soil. I make sure that I’m part of the process all the time,” Masinga says.

Student Mpumelele Hlangu practices mixed farming. “We have the livestock production and we also have crop production so with our livestock production we have pigs, goats, sheep and on the crop production we usually do cabbages, potatoes and amadumbe which is yams. It(the progamme) has benefitted us a lot when it comes to managing the business, learning how to manage everything, how to record everything with the business financial planning,” says Hlangu.

Students are encouraged to approach local retailers with their crops and merchandise and with many retailers looking to support and buy locally. The idea was inspired by Zibu MaSotobe, who is the Project Manager for the KwaZulu-Natal Agri Youth Programme.

“We are grappling with poverty and we are grappling with lack of access to fresh, nutritious food and when COVID came through one of the most important things was that you must be eating healthy. In 2015, when I was in the Mandela Washington fellowship one of the things that I identified at the time is that I had a Master’s Degree but I did not know how to create employment for myself. One of the key things that are going to drive the resuscitation of South African’s economy is entrepreneurs that are participating in agriculture, in energy, and transport. I wanted to make sure that I can participate in developing businesses and heads of businesses that can lead in those aspects of the business,” says MaSotobe.

US Consul General in Durban, Anne Linee, comes from a farming background herself. She says she understands the importance of how agricultural production can change a family’s life.

“We have a pretty robust alumni, so we have been working with Zibu for years since she came back and she really came to us to kick start this idea. She’s been critical to moving the programme forward and presenting us with ideas and turning lot of the things that we conceptually wanted to get involved in like how do we help young farmers find access to the tools and skills they need to be able to grow their sectors,” says Linee.

The programme is run in collaboration with the Durban University of Technology’s AgriHub in KwaZulu-Natal. Vice-Chancellor at the DUT School of Research and Innovation, Profesor Sibusiso Moyo, says practical business knowledge is key to attaining financial freedom.

“This perception that when you have a degree then you can’t probably dig something in the garden it’s the whole notion that worsens our situation. We are responsible every year enrolling over 33 000 students and approximately 8 00 of those who graduate from the university into the market. Not all of them can find employment but Africa even South Africa and the region where we are now, the advantage we have is land and resources, and the number of youth who are able to go through the educational system get quality education getting employment it’s a big challenge.

So, for me, this KZN Agri Youth Programme is a very important strategic programme that can help our youth despite what field you come from whether you are engineering, whether you are an accountant, and also of youth who are not even able to access higher education to give someone hope that they can learn a skill which will contribute not just to food security but also be able to market, to make some money from there but also to be able to export.”

Following the success of this first programme, a second intake is on the cards for later this year. Author Salma Patel