Building an inclusive rural economy: Youth to the Front

In commemoration of the 39th anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) took its cue from 2015 State of the Nation Address (SONA). This year’s SONA articulated that 2015 is the year of the Freedom Charter and called for unity in action to advance economic freedom. The Department undertook a structured programme starting from 01 to 30 June 2015. The theme of this year’s youth month programme was; “Capacitating youth to bring about economic freedom through food production”.

The Department will use feedback from this programme to enhance its activities. The long term goal is to extend youth month calendar events to a point where youth focused activities are streamlined into all activities and policies of the department. The opportunity to travel throughout the country and meet and talk to youth has greatly enriched my understanding of challenges faced by youth in our sectors.

On 28 June 2015, Stats SA released a report on youth unemployement. This report was preceded by the launch of the National Youth Policy 2015 to 2020 – “We don’t want a hand out, we want a hand up!” and greatly echoes the basis of our youth month campaign as it poses interventions to improve opportunities for youth. Among the key interventions are to improve education and skills, including youth participation in public works schemes, support for entrepreneurship and on-the-job training opportunities, and improved life skills, including combating substance abuse. DAFF has programmes that have benefitted, and continue to serve the needs of youth across South Africa. These range from experiential learning opportunities to bursaries and international agreements to boost skills through exchange programmes which we explained thoroughly throughout our countrywide youth month programme.

The National Development Plan message of an inclusive rural economy was carried across in all the outreach programmes. Young people in our sectors were sensitised about agriculture’s targets and required actions in line with the NDP:

  • Creation of a million jobs by 2030
  • Acquisition of 2 million hectares of strategically located land by 2019,
  • Development of 1 million hectares of under-utilised land in communal areas and land reform projects,
  • Provision of support to smallholder producers and the aspiration of every household being able to have food on the table by 2030.
  • The plan of revitalising agriculture and agro-processing value chain was one of the key messages as well.

As part of a co-ordinated campaign to draw a link between youth and agriculture, I teamed up with the Cape Town based Santos Football Club, “The People’s Team” to kick off the youth month programme in Landsdowne, Cape Town on 01 June 2015. The people‘s team, was founded in 1982 in Heideveld township in Cape Town. I brought Santos on board for two reasons; to attract young people into the mainstream agriculture by identifying with the young footballers and to promote food security and good nutritioun. For any athlete to perform well on the field they need nutritious food.

On 08th June, we commemorated World Oceans Day on one of the department’s research vessels in Cape Town. During the commemoration I called on industry leaders to partner with the department to ensure the participation of the youth in the oceans economy. We need marine scientists for the development of the fisheries sector for food security.

Fish supply the greatest percentage of the world’s protein consumed by humans, making the oceans critical to food security. We know that achieving food security in its totality continues to be a challenge for the whole world, and, in particular, for developing nations when you consider the proportion of the population affected. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), most of the world’s major fisheries are being fished at levels above their maximum sustainable level with a number of fish stocks completely depleted. The development of new fisheries remains a critical part of government, hence the launch of Operation Phakisa as a means to unlock our oceans economy. As the custodians of South Africa’s oceans, we are committed to creating opportunities towards the transformation of the sector, not only towards fishing licences and access to resources, but through acquiring skills that will increase the skills base.

The Stats SA report also pointed to a mismatch of skills and available jobs: “As many as 55 percent of young people, who are actively looking for jobs, have education levels below matric, while an additional 36.4 percent only have a matric qualification.” This means enriching youth with opportunities where they get exposed to skills is critical towards building a sustainable sector that can catapult our production levels in order to boost our economy and assist us in creating more employment opportunities in our country.

As the message of youth partipation gained momentum, Santos and Mthatha Football Club joined me at Tsolo Agriculture and Rural Development Institute, in the Eastern Cape on the 13th June to highlight the importance of agriculture, nutrition and education. Not only did the football players draw youth to the event, but they have been a valuable asset to my Departmental team, by showing young people what a significant role agriculture plays in our everyday life and how the people of South Africa can assist the communities they live in by starting household food gardens. This might seem insignificant, but this back to basics approach will assist our communities to become food secure. That’s why we have consistently planted household food gardens as part of our outreach programmes.

To promote careers in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors, the department held a career exhibition in Groblersdal in Limpopo. Over 1000 youth around the Sekhukhune District Municipality took part in this initiative.

The aim of the event was multifold:

  • To encourage young people to follow careers in the sectors,
  • To present career opportunities in the sectors,
  • To share information on bursary opportunities for careers in the sectors,
  • To provide career guidance to learners and out of school youth,
  • To give a platform to sector partners/industry to showcase their programmes,
  • To provide information on institutions of higher learning.

During the activities of the month, I interacted with many young people whobecame aware of the many opportunities that are avaliable for young people in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. For many of these young people, this was the first time they were exposed to these opportunities.

As the month drew to a close, I met with student representatives of the Agricultural Training Institutes (ATI’s). I convened Principals, Student Representative Council members and students from the 11 Colleges of Agriculture during a meeting that was held in Johannesburg on 30 June 2015. This was the first time that a gathering of this nature took place.

During this meeting, discussions were frank and robust. Students led the call for  transformation and inclusivity in the decision-making processes at their colleges. As the students were given a platform to highlight the challenges they are facing, I was shocked to hear that there are still incidents of discrimination in terms of admission policies. Reminiscent of the youth of 1976, it was painful to hear that students are being disadvantaged due to Afrikaans being “perceived” as the language of choice at some institutes. By virtue of not being able to fully understand Afrikaans, some students raised their frustration of not having equal access to informtation and documents because they do not speak or read Afrikaans. One of the resolutions of the meeting was that the Department will put together a team to interact with the ATIs and to provide concrete proposals on how issues of transformation and discrimination can be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Despite these challenges, the overwhelming feeling from the students and the young people I interacted with during the June month, is that of hope and determination. They impressed upon methat they do not want to become employees on farms but that they want to become farmers and producers. I am encouraged by their commitment to agriculture and know that together with the youth, we can indeed move South Africa forward!

Cde Senzeni Zokwana: Member of the ANC NEC and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

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