OPINION | There are too many barriers for potential black farmers

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Farmer Rapitse Montsho at his farm (Supplied)
Farmer Rapitse Montsho at his farm (Supplied)

Government should harness and enable the entrepreneurial spirit and skills of young black emerging farmers through strong political leadership and appropriate enabling environments, writes Rapitse Montsho.

For many young black people, agriculture has often been seen as outdated, unprofitable and hard work. Yet, this is not the case. Agriculture is a dynamic sector, offering a multitude of opportunities to young entrepreneurs along the entire agribusiness value chain.  

Harnessing and enabling youth entrepreneurial skills and the spirit of smallholder black farmers - particularly young people in the rural economy, should be at the forefront of every food security and growth agenda.

Therefore the government, financiers and the private sector need to create a thriving youth entrepreneurial sector that provides rural people, especially young boys and girls, with the right conditions for their entrepreneurial skills, energy and ambition. 

Background for small scale farming  

To address why I believe that harnessing and enabling youth agricultural entrepreneurial skills should be at the forefront of every food security and growth agenda, a brief background of small scale farming could suffice.

Historically, commercial farmers who plant hundreds of hectares have been predominantly white and government's plans to ensure the transformation of the agricultural sector is hampered by the lack of sizeable land in the hands of black farmers.

The big white commercial farmers, who operate in either livestock and or crop production, reached the seeming independence they have today because the apartheid government at the time, through a policy of affirmative action for white and particularly young Afrikaans speaking farmers, provided enormous assistance through subsidy, tax breaks and a supply of inputs such as feed and medication for livestock, and fertilisers, chemicals and even seeds and implements for crops.

Almost three decades after apartheid has officially ended, things have not been smooth sailing for black farmers, let alone the few young ones.

Here is an example. A friend's daughter's farm in Limpopo, which has been zoned for livestock farming and crop production, is tangled in bureaucracy and red-tape. Water on the farm is obtained from a single borehole. Water surveying has been done and five drillable points have been identified.

In her case, ramping up would mean doing two things: firstly, crop production and secondly, creation of feedlot for cattle and goats.

The area, which is ready for immediate planting, is available and needs water, pipes, seedlings, fertilisers, chemicals and additional staff. For livestock, the creation of feedlot would allow more animals to be kept on the farm without regard to herd per hectare.

My friend's daughter has approached the Land Bank for assistance. But amongst other things, they need a water usage licence, whose processing has been affected by the fact that staff at Water and Sanitation have not been in the office due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This is an example that proves that, unlike the Afrikaners of yesteryear, most of the emerging farmers regard the lack of funding as the core driver of their challenges and failures, even though the passion, zest, vitality and oomph count as the master narrative drivers of the success in any venture, but particularly in farming. 

Latest policy directives 

Lest we forget that since the dawn of democracy 27 years ago, the demand for land reform has intensified as unemployment and poverty in South Africa have worsened.

With the departments of Agriculture and Land Affairs and Public Works and Infrastructure’'s policy directives, the timely allocation of 700 000 hectares of land should be welcomed.

Also the latest 2020 Expropriation Bill would allow land to be expropriated in the public interest and help boost the government's ailing land redistribution programme.

The Bill will broaden the scope for expropriation in line with the Constitution that provides that the state can expropriate "in the public interest", including paying no compensation. The proposed new law will harmonise more than 140 pieces of legislation empowering various organs of state to expropriate.

The Bill, which is being piloted by the Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille and Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, should become law by the first half of 2021.

Creating a new agricultural economy 

How can the government at both provincial and national levels, intervene in line with the creation of this new economy that is dependent on what we produce ourselves and not what we import? By harnessing and enabling the entrepreneurial spirit and skills of young black emerging farmers through strong political leadership and appropriate enabling environments.

Rapitse Montsho
Farmer Rapitse Montsho holding some of his maize grown on his farm (Supplied)

This must be evidenced through the development of vocational and business management training for emerging farmers and the provision of adequate and affordable financing for starting and growing enterprises.

Indeed, despite the high unemployment rate among our youth, they are often dynamic, inquisitive and challenging. They create a distinctive culture, are innovative and often invent new forms of independent work. Most young black entrepreneurs are also more likely to hire fellow youths and pull even more young people out of unemployment and poverty.

Making agriculture attractive to the youth 

For me, the sustainable development of agriculture involves making it attractive to the youth who are more geared to use technology and able to develop applications that can manage the implementation of agricultural development with smart methods rather than hard and sweaty processes.

They are particularly responsive to new economic opportunities and trends. We need to entice them into agriculture's high growth sector. Additionally, agricultural entrepreneurship will definitely offer unemployed or discouraged youth an opportunity to build sustainable livelihoods and a chance to integrate into society.

Unfortunately, there are many barriers and pitfalls for potential young black farmers. They are and will be stifled by limited access to finance, low levels of skills and education, few market opportunities and a lack of broader institutional support, particularly if their businesses encounter any difficulties.

Indeed, our young, girls and boys, often do not have enough collateral or other resources to raise funds. Therefore, making micro-finance more widely accessible is crucial for starting and growing successful enterprises, on an individual and group basis.

Collateral or other resources 

The truth is, establishing a small or medium enterprise - particularly as a young person, is often very difficult. Farmers, perceived as high-risk groups because of the cyclical nature of the sector, often do not have enough collateral or other resources to raise funds. They may not own sufficient land or have formal rights to the land they do own.

In addition to lack of collateral, they may also lack sophisticated business skills. Making micro-finance more widely accessible to young black farmers is crucial for starting and growing successful enterprises in the agribusiness value chain.

Indeed, without access to adequate and affordable financing to complement their education and vocational training, budding youth agricultural entrepreneurs will not be fully equipped to thrive in the agribusiness marketplace.

Cadre of young farming entrepreneurs 

To this end, I believe the priority should be to support the creation of a cadre of young farming entrepreneurs along the agribusiness value chain through:

  • Research to identify value chains that will deliver greater value, reduce risks and increase resilience for young black farmers;
  • Partnerships between the public sector, research institutions, the private sector, farmers and civil society to promote sustainable youth agricultural development and inclusive growth;
  • Strong vocational and business management training for young people;
  • Adequate and affordable financing for starting and growing enterprises;
  • Appropriate enabling environments for youth entrepreneurship on an individual and collective basis; and
  • Links to markets to take advantage of the opportunities arising along the South African agribusiness value chain.

To achieve these goals we will also need political leadership that demonstrates the necessary vision and will.

Agricultural entrepreneurship is rooted in small farms across our country's urban and far-flung hinterlands. But it needs proactive policy design and investment.

The government, finance institutions and the private sector need to make these opportunities flourish by vigorously facilitating, supporting and encouraging the active involvement of young, small-scale black farmers. 

- Rapitse Montsho is an emerging black farmer in Ventersdorp. He is a Member of the South African Defence Force Reserves.

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