How do we attract the youth?

It is as important to draw young people into farming as it is to retain those who are already on the land.

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Any industry that hopes to last knows how crucial it is to attract young people. Agriculture is no exception. So, how do we make the sector more interesting to the youth? This question is not only asked in South Africa. I can safely say that the rest of Africa is also plagued by the lack of youth participation in agriculture. According to available information, the average SA farmer is about 60 years old. This should be enough to get any government worried about the future of agriculture in our country.

I honestly doubt, though, whether there is much more that could be done to attract young people to the industry. While we could work harder to make our education system embrace the sector, it really is up to the youth to make up their own minds based on what they already know. Let’s face the facts: agriculture cannot be made any ‘sexier’ than it is right now.

Farming, in short, is tough work. To become profitable, especially when you are not loaded with cash, means being prepared to spend long days labouring on the farm. Disasters are also part of the game. You will experience droughts and floods, and yes, you will lose money from time to time. That is the reality. It is your choice.

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So, why do people still do it? The answer is passion! You can only take up farming if you love to do it. This is the response you’ll probably hear from any farmer you speak to. My advice to young people out there is simple: if you don’t have this passion for farming, don’t get involved in it. You can discover whether you have this passion by working part-time on a farm for a while.

Keeping farmers farming
I believe we should not only be asking how we can make agriculture attractive to the youth, but how we can retain those who are already on the land. If we manage to do that, we will, to a large extent, remove the problem of trying to attract them there in the first place. The only way to keep farmers on farms is for this country to initiate good support structures – structures that operate better than the existing ones, to be more precise! There are many government programmes in place for young farmers, but how many are doing what they are supposed to?

At a recent African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa) youth workshop, young farmers called for the establishment of an agri youth development fund. This, I suspect, is because they’ve come to realise that the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) is useless. And who can blame them? Recently, the NYDA hosted a Southern Africa workshop for the African Rural and Agricultural Credit Association (Afraca) in Pretoria – at two separate venues. This could not have been cheap. Yet, after attending, I’m still trying to figure out what their purpose was and what they tried to achieve.

What makes matters worse is that the NYDA members invited to an Afasa meeting a few days later did not even bother to go. And this was after these selfsame NYDA members had claimed at their workshop that rural development and financing for youth was an important part of the NYDA’s development plan!