THE YOUTH MUST GRAB AVAILABLE OPPORTUNITIES IN AGRICULTURE
Have you ever imagined how agriculture and food security in our province of Mpumalanga can be transformed if we were to focus more of our energies towards empowering more women and the youth in the sector? The lack of information, poorer access to education, finance, and advisory services are some of the main factors contributing to the lack of and the inability to grow for most of our women and youth in agriculture.
As a matter of a fact, some young are hampered by the lack of opportunities and access to skills and resources they need to take their enthusiasm in agriculture from an abstract to a practical successful enterprise, because of limited funds and training. We need to overcome these challenges, regardless of how difficult they may be. An isiZulu idiomatic expression, “Indlala idala ulaka”, loosely translated “hunger creates anger,” lays it bare. We do not want an angry youth, because that would be catastrophic. Young people need to know that they have the future in their hands; they need to take charge, show some level of responsibility by contributing to the fight against hunger and unemployment. The youth, as much as agriculture, is our future.
Most of those born in the year 2000 and beyond, for example, cannot survive without their smartphones – one of the key technologies that are opening up opportunities for our farmers by giving them agricultural knowledge and advice, weather forecasts, digital banking, market information, etc. Young people are the ones who are techno-savvy and can develop these solutions. This includes the use of new technology such as drones and many others being introduced to facilitate agricultural transformation. Hence I say the youth today, will be our leaders in agriculture tomorrow.
The sector needs more young e-agriculture entrepreneurs, who will conduct business training, mentorship, incubation, and networking opportunities. These are opportunities that need young people to take advantage of, and they will benefit every farmer, but also encourage and inspire learners at schools, to take up agriculture as their field of study.
I am happy that as part of my first assignments after my deployment to this Department, I led the Senior Management of the Department on a visit to the University of Mpumalanga and the Agricultural Research Council here in Mbombela, to revive and reignite our relationship and existing MOUs, because in all honesty, agriculture is science, and everything about it needs research. Our mutual collaboration must benefit an ordinary farmer in Mpakeni in the City of Mbombela, Thulamahashe in Bushbuckridge, Volksrust in Dr. Pixley ka Isaka Seme, or Seabe in Dr. JS Moroka Local Municipality.
We live in challenging times; an epoch of natural disasters which impact negatively on agriculture, ie drought, floods, storms and hail, animal diseases, climate change, and global warming. Tropical Cyclone Eloise earlier this year, for example, brought much-needed rain for our crops and livestock, but we know that some farmers incurred losses from the heavy rains, thereby affecting and impacting the yield. The invasive crop pest Fall Army Worm, for example, is well known for its devastating effects on maize yields, but very few studies have been done on its broader impact on poverty levels. This is where the ARC and UMP must step in. They should assist us. Otherwise, without any control measures in place, we do not only risk revenue losses, but food security and livelihoods will suffer due to this pest.
I am not a pessimist, but these facts and challenges mentioned above are staring at us, and we need to tackle them head-on. I know we can. Working together, we will.