R18 million upgrade for KZN agricultural schools

SA’s agricultural high schools are in the main on a downward trend, faced with high operating expenses and a shortage of skilled teachers.

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But in KwaZulu-Natal the provincial department of education has made R18 million available to three agricultural schools.
KZN Education MEC Senzo Mchunu said that following visits to Weston Agricultural College in Mooi River, James Nxumalo Agricultural High School in Ulundi and Vryheid Landbou, he calculated that their immediate upgrade needs amounted to R18 million.

“We’ve made this available to them so that they can continue to function at the level that they should. We’re also establishing a fourth fully-fledged agricultural college in Shakaskraal, at an old school on a farm,” he said. The department also planned to upgrade 18 of KZN’s technical high schools. Mchunu said he was interested in a South American farm school model whereby schools became financially sustainable by producing their own crops for market, while providing students with a solid education.

“It’s a long-term vision, but we want to see if it works in South Africa,” he said. Weston principal Paul Tait said the allocation was “fantastic news”. “We’re looking forward to seeing it materialise. The department has said we should get machinery on the ground within three weeks. We’re going to be putting in a new rotary dairy parlour and equipping an agricultural teaching centre with computers and smartboards.

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“We’ll also be getting two tractors and two bakkies for farm business,” said Tait. The intention is to use this investment to become financially independent, as is the case with Argentina’s agricultural schools. “Government can’t keep pouring money into schools, especially these schools which are expensive to run,” said Tait.

“Our big drive is to become self-sustainable. We need this cash injection to put in the systems we need. Then we must be accountable to make it work.” The Saville Foundation gave interest-free bridging finance to Weston. “We’re all keen to make a difference in South Africa and to teach kids the best way to farm. “We’re hoping that if the system works, we can act as a role model for other agricultural schools,” said Tait.