Talking business

2012-01-24 00:00

ALL around us, there are ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things. Recently, I met a very inspiring woman named Judy Stuart. She described herself as a simple farmer from Underberg, and asked whether she could stop by my office to tell me about a project that she is involved in called the Future Farmers Project.

It is a project that grew out of a need that she identified while working with emerging farmers. She found that many of these farmers, because of challenging circumstances, lack the necessary skills to become successful commercial farmers.

She decided that there was a real need to start equipping young people with these skills, and this drove her to work on developing an apprenticeship programme. Students entering the programme are drawn predominantly from Zakhe Agricultural College at Baynesfield, one of a handful of secondary institutions that offer hands-on agricultural training.

Zakhe has produced impressive matric results, and attributes this to a disciplined environment with a strong Christian ethic and a focus on integrity. The boys who are unable to attend university are placed on commercial farms as apprentices.

They start on a one-year contract and work on everything from fencing to irrigation, and attain skills such as milking and inseminating.

During the year, farmers are encouraged to send the students on short courses and to pay for the courses if the student passes.

After students have completed their apprenticeships, those who have shown a good work ethic and a real aptitude for farming, are placed on farms overseas. This helps the young men to develop a world perspective and it allows them to gain valuable additional skills.

On returning, they are encouraged to study further via correspondence. The project is enjoying some wonderful results. Some of these competent young men have come home to be offered shares in commercial farming operations.

I am impressed with this project for so many reasons. Firstly, because it is making a real contribution to black economic empowerment, and it is doing something positive to address our food-security challenges.

Secondly, because of the values of integrity, old-fashioned hard work, reward based on merit and a principle of “nothing for nothing”, Young people who are talented and hardworking are given the opportunity to succeed. Their ticket overseas is paid for in advance, but they are expected to pay it back from the wages that they earn overseas. This money is then used to fund the next student.

There is much that we can learn from success stories like the Future Farmers Project, and that we can apply across sectors. Talking to Stuart highlighted some important points for me.

Success comes from a combination of talent, hard work and taking advantage of opportunities that one is given.

To my mind, the failure of so many empowerment projects can be attributed to the poor selection of candidates and too many hand-outs. Opportunities should be offered to deserving people.

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