Recently, the North West Department of Agriculture announced a provincial youth development symposium to ensure that the province maintains its status as one of the food baskets of the country. The symposium is to be held with Youth in Agriculture and Rural Development (Yard) and the Black African Young Farmers (Bayofa).
Perhaps the department’s intention is good, but the question I must ask is this: who are Yard and Bayofa, and who are those 200 young people booked into some fancy hotel for the event?
This was the first time I had heard of Bayofa, and all I could find out about it is that it is a non-profit ‘farmers association’ registered some two years ago. Yard is a legacy of former agriculture minister Lulu Xingwana. The only time I ever get to hear about it is when there’s a hotel stay and gala dinner involved. I haven’t heard about any farmer’s days, projects or anything that involves farming.
There’s no doubt that the youth are extremely important to the sector. But meaningful participation is called for. And, sometimes, I have to question some of the things that are being done in the name of young people. Simply organising a symposium and filling a hotel with them doesn’t mean a thing if such an expensive exercise isn’t going to yield results.
I received several telephone calls after the symposium was announced. Most were from young farmers in the North West, who said they didn’t see the point of a symposium while they were still struggling to finance their farming activities. Coincidentally, before the announcement of the symposium, I had a call from a young small-scale farmer about his attempts to get the North West department of agriculture to help him with his farming business.
He said he produced about 500 broilers per cycle and was struggling to market them and expand his herd of eight cows due to lack of finance. He told me how his efforts to get help from the department and the National Youth Development Agency had been fruitless.
I cannot say I was surprised. He is one of many young farmers – male and female – who are in dire need of some sort of help from the department of agriculture, or any organisation mandated with assisting farmers.
But when they approach these organisations, they’re told: “There’s no money”. Yet, there’s always money for talk shops at fancy hotels.
Spend the money meaningfully
My challenge: for one year, let’s have no symposiums (or whatever they call them) organised by the provincial departments of agriculture. Instead, let’s see that money spent on helping deserving farmers in real and meaningful ways. Let’s see where we stand at the end of that year. As far as I’m concerned, if the North West department of agriculture spent the money used to organise this coming symposium on helping only two young farmers to become successful – that would be a greater achievement than filling a hotel somewhere with people who will have forgotten the speeches before they get home.