Picture: Daily Dispatch
Picture: Daily Dispatch

Sifiso Khoza is one of the growing number of young people leaving white collar jobs in the cities and heading to the rural areas to take advantages of job opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Khoza, 35, holds a national diploma in sports management from University of Johannesburg but has been battling to find a job suiting his qualification. A few years ago his father used his severance package to buy him a second-hand tractor and five pigs to fashion a small farming business in Richmond, in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Midlands.

“Since then I have never looked back,” he said, adding that he used the skills he obtained at university to grow his farm.

Today he has a total of 11 tractors and a piggery with more than 200 sows. Apart from ploughing his 30ha farm, the 11 tractors are also contracted by the provincial government to plough and plant the community's farms.

He now employs more than 20 full-time workers and is one of the shining examples of department's Inkunzi Isematholeni (loosely translated to mean the bull is within the calves or the future lies with the youth) programme.

It aims to mobilise and expose young people to opportunities in the agricultural sector’s value chain. So far, more than 1,500 young people are taking part in the empowerment programme.

“Since going into farming, I have realised that there are many opportunities for young, energetic people like myself in the agricultural value chain. There are many places to tap into and KwaZulu-Natal has enough land, so long as you are ready to get your hands dirty and work hard,” he said.

Khoza is also part of a consortium of black farmers who are pooling together their resources so that they can supply big retailers and also enter the agri-processing sector.

KZN agriculture and rural development MEC Bongiwe Sithole-Moloi said the department launched project in 2019. She said the province faced a complex challenge: the mainly white farmers in the province are growing old, while the  jobless rate among youth in KZN stands at a staggering 42.1%.

“We have identified farming as a key job driver targeting the youth. Our goal is to fight youth unemployment through farming. Agriculture is the mainstay of the KZN economy, with vast hectares of land sustaining our rural population,” she said.

Lani Wepener, the department’s director of funding and investment partnership, said her department was placing a number of youngsters, many of them graduates, with organisations such as Future Farmers Foundation and others, to gain skills. This is where they learn real farming skills.

Some of the participants are sent overseas to gain more knowledge and others are placed locally in livestock, diary and plantation farms for internship and permanent employment.

“Each organisation has a different approach with differing participants. ... This is a new programme and agricultural graduates are really benefiting from this initiative across the province,” Wepener said.

Twenty-seven-year-old Zama Memela is also part of the project. She believes that you don’t necessarily need vast tracts of land to plant crops and vegetables.

Memela studied food hospitality management at Capsicum Culinary Studio, specialising in food preparation and cooking methods. She now owns her small farm but also goes around the province teaching young people about various types of ploughing and planting, including her favourite — vertical planting.

“This type of farming is using walls and steep areas to plant all types of plants, including herbs such as basil, thyme, mint, rockets and others.

“I always to young people who are struggling to find jobs, agriculture is the way to go because everyone need to eat and if you are unemployed and cannot afford to buy your own food, you have to plant it yourself,” she said.

Picture: Daily Dispatch
Picture: Daily Dispatch

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