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Challenges for the youth entrepreneurs in agriculture

By Motlatsi Tolo
03 Jul 2020
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Challenges for the youth entrepreneurs in agriculture

We need action now for a better future not only for us but for generations to come. That is what sustainable development requires. It is time for future leaders to be mindful of the land, soil, water and environment. Young farmers should develop an interest in agriculture and recognise the opportunities to contribute to much needed food security.

Agriculture needs to be taken seriously. It is a primary source of livelihood for millions in Africa. As the global population increases, there will be increased demand for food and water. Africa is so rich in resources and should not need to depend on food imports. Neither should African countries keep exporting raw materials to other continents, and then buy back processed products. One of the solutions to sustainable agriculture development and food security is to provide farmers with appropriate training. Follow-ups are important, whether they are at a small scale or for commercial farmers to keep up with important technological and biological developments. Food safety has to be an important consideration too – farmers must know about and be able to assure that their food production is safe for human consumption. Training should also focus on how to run a business, so that they can learn to manage their own business. Cooperatives should be established within communities. The community structures can play a role to manage these sustainably. Bartering across commodity producing groups within a community is also important for food security within communities. Fair value exchanges are important to provide incentives for such a system. Africa should be able to feed itself.

Government funding and mentoring programmes for young farmers are critical. Equally important are forums where young farmers can share experiences, get practical assistance or guidance. In South Africa, for example, agricultural funding for young people is provided by the National Youth Development Agency, Small Enterprise Development Agency, Small Enterprise Finance Agency, banks and other development agencies. But young farmers also need opportunities to learn and share experiences.

At the World Economic Forum in 2016, Wim Plaizier said that 80 per cent of farmers in Africa are farming on less than 10 hectares, in fact about 2 hectares to be precise, and that these small holder farmers are mostly women. Commercial farming in South Africa is still dominated by white farmers, males. Government’s programmes to broaden the scope of participation in agriculture to support black economic empowerment, need also to focus on empowering youth and women. Support programmes must address the specific challenges of primary, secondary and tertiary agriculture - primary agriculture is production or growing of products; secondary agriculture is the processing of the raw agricultural products; and tertiary agriculture is the final phase, where services are added to bring products to the end user.

To develop a thriving agricultural sector, we need to ask and address important questions. Where does a farmer start? How much land is necessary to start? Is there enough water? Is this land arable? How can I test whether the soil is good? How long does it take to get the soil ready if there is land degradation? Where do I get water supply for irrigation? Where can I get training in a specific field of agriculture? What do the consumers want? Where is my market? Are there export markets for my products and how do I access them? On this last point, African governments need to make sure that they not only reduce tariff barriers but also non-tariff barriers to food trade in Africa.

Businesses, whether small or big, face many similar problems – including access to capital and access to land. The capital to start or improve or expand the production level of a project or projects is a major constraint. Add to that requirements for equipment, mechanization, water, security (e.g. fencing) or training (education). Training needs include theoretical training, follow ups, site visits with experienced trainers in specific fields (be it poultry, horticulture, aqua culture, soil testing etc). More agricultural training facilities need to be established. There should be more and better skilled trainers, with practical experience to share. While academic training at universities is important, this training is often theoretical, with very little practical training opportunities, such as learnerships or farming internships included.

In farming, science, technology and business have to go hand in hand. Agriculture is a business, and it should be treated as a business. Not many new young farmers know how to manage their company, work force and production. Simple tasks of record keeping for each seed planted, how many seeds did not sprout, and what is the reason for them not sprouting. We would need to know the propagation of the seed that will yield the production levels for a viable business. Water consumption has to be managed carefully. Chemicals – in the form of fertilisers – are important inputs to agricultural production. Supporting your workforce is essential good farming practice. Practical issues have to be addressed. Ablution facilities on farms always need to be up to standard and kept clean. Employees should shower in and out at work to ensure the integrity of production processes and protection of human and plant health. Global food security matters - biosecurity is very important, because human health must be secured.

Agriculture offers important opportunities for public-private partnerships. We are seeing that private companies see the value of investing in agricultural support – and this bring benefits to their own value chains. Companies such as Coca Cola invests in farmers in a number of African countries. They buy some of their inputs from farmers, so it is in their interest to empower farmers to supply those products. And this means that Coca Cola contributes to increasing sustainable agriculture in Africa. They source key products such as tea, coffee, cocoa, fruits, and vegetables from farmers; and support famers to improve farming techniques, efficiency, and the overall standards for production. Young farmers should be proactive and get in contact with companies like Coca Cola and supply the products harvested on the farm.

We hope that by 2063, many African countries will have implemented changes in agriculture, that are practical, sustainable and beneficial for Africa, through the works of ubuntu. We hope there will be less hunger, and that a malnutrition-free Africa will be setting an example to the world. As a young farmer, I hope that young famers across the continent will take advantage of the changing environment, and opportunities to develop thriving agricultural business and so contribute to Africa’s food security and sustainable development.

About the Author(s)

Motlatsi Tolo

Motlatsi Tolo

Motlatsi Tolo is Managing Director at Raseto Agricultural Enterprise.

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