Training tomorrow’s farmers today

The closure of many agricultural colleges has left a skills shortage in rural communities. Nutritionist Perseverance Madoda started Thuto-ya-Sechaba training centre to fill the gap. Peter Mashala reports.

Training tomorrow’s farmers today
- Advertisement -

Lack of farming skills is a serious problem that lies at the very heart of poor nutrition and rural food shortages. It’s a challenge that Perseverance Madoda is determined to overcome. Perseverance, who hails from Klerksdorp in North West, studied food science and nutrition at North-West University in Potchefstroom before working as a community development worker at the Department of Health. “My main job was to encourage people to eat nutritious food,” she recalls.

She then completed her BSc (Hons) in Rural Development before joining the Department of Agriculture in 1999 as a food security co-ordinator. Her core function here was to motivate women and youngsters to venture into farming. At the same time, she continued giving advice on nutrition.

Perseverance Madoda, founder of Thuto-ya-Setshaba, was the 2010 North West Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Female Entrepreneur of the Year.

- Advertisement -

As time went by, however, Perserverance found it disheartening to educate people about the importance of eating nutritious food when they could hardly afford to buy food in the first place. “Most of them were poor,” she explains. “So we encouraged them to start backyard food gardens and even become farmers. The trouble was that we weren’t providing them with the technical or business skills to do this. I realised that I had to take what I did to another level. In short, I wanted to create a training academy.”

New beginnings
In 2006 Perserverance resigned from the department, and spent a year consulting for the Netherlands Embassy doing nutrition advocacy. At the same time, she pursued her dream vigorously. She applied for a farm through the government’s Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) and obtained a 45ha property less than 10km from Klerkdorp. She set to work painting and renovating the farmhouse and the following year, Thuto-ya-Setshaba training centre opened its doors.

“I didn’t have a specific group in mind but wanted to help anyone I could,” she recalls. Perserverance was awarded a tender by the Department of Agriculture to train farmers on their behalf.“We work with Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme-funded emerging farmers in Limpopo, Free State and North West, where we conduct on-site training,” she explains. “We’ve even opened offices in these provinces so that we can communicate directly with farmers in these areas.”

To date, the Thuto-ya-Setshaba centre has trained hundreds of rural dwellers, mostly land reform beneficiaries. It is accredited with AgriSETA and MICT SETA to provide an SA Qualification Authority-registered certificate on plant production, animal and poultry production. “We are currently waiting for a private FET college certificate registration,” says Perseverance. “My aim is to establish a fully-fledged agricultural college where we can nurture and grow the skills of young farmers.”

Holistic training
Thuto-ya-Setshaba offers theoretical as well as on-the-job training. The centre employs two horticulturists with master’s degrees, an agri-economist and two facilitators in animal and poultry production. “These are the people who run the programmes,” says Perseverance. “The courses are from NQF levels one to four. For land reform beneficiaries, because we do the training on their own farms, we design programmes to suit their needs.”

Several of the courses at the centre include a computer literacy module. Perseverance Madoda maintains that IT is essential for modern farming operations.

This is not without its challenges. Most of the land reform beneficiaries are elderly and many struggle to read or write. To overcome this difficulty, the trainers use visuals to get their message across. “This works well because many of these people have years of experience. In all, I’d say we have an 80% pass rate,” says Perseverance.

Thuto-ya-Setshaba also runs learnership and internship programmes for various institutions. Perseverance has built dormitories on a neighbouring leased farm, and undergraduate students who wish to complete their practical training are hosted here. There are currently 12 students completing the learnership programme. “We’re preparing the students to become farm managers, start their own farms or even become caretakers on government farms. To become a caretaker, you have to have an agricultural qualification,” explains Perseverance.

The centre not only trains the students but also helps them with the administrative process of applying for a farm. Perseverance places great emphasis on computer skills. “Information technology has become essential in farming,” she stresses. “As part of our business management training, we discourage farmers from relying solely on pen and paper.”

A mixed farming operation
To offer its students as broad an experience as possible, Thuto-ya-Setshaba is run as a mixed farming operation. Four students who have completed their internship and learnerships at the centre are employed to manage the various enterprises. The centre has 26 Bonsmara-type cattle that are run on the neighbouring leased farm, 21 Dorper sheep, 8 000 layers producing on average 7 500 eggs a day, and a broiler operation that produces 84 000 birds per five-month cycle.

The eggs are sold to the local Spar and Cash & Carry outlets, while the broilers are marketed to the Crest Choice abattoir in Potchefstroom. There are also nine hydroponic tunnels producing spinach, tomatoes and green peppers for the local market. Five more tunnels are in the process of being built. Another crop in the pipeline is maize, which will be planted on at least 30ha.
Perseverance has undoubtedly lived up to her name, and her vision, determination and organisational skills were recognised when she was honoured as the 2010 North West Department of Agriculture Female Entrepreneur of the Year.