July 2018

SINELIZWI FAKADE and LUKE COLLIER, Farmer Development co-ordinators, Grain SA

It was the old American President, Benjamin Franklin, who wrote, ‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’  Early on in his life Franklin discovered that imitating other people was a sure way to self-improvement and success.

He would deliberately set out to discover the experts in the field he was interested in and acquire knowledge or skills and examine their work closely. He learned as much as possible about their style, attitudes, habits and strategies.

The key is that Franklin was open to learning and he believed in getting involved in improving himself. He would continuously imitate recognised experts until he had grown in confidence and skill.

Farmer Development Programme
As Grain SA’s Farmer Development team we are proud of the fact that the success of our programme is reflected in the relationships we have built with the farmers and broader agricultural sector. The successes and growth we have seen in the farmers we work with encourage us every day to reach out to more people to take our hands on this development journey.

True to our characters, we are always eager to partner with other stakeholders in internship programmes. We believe there are many knowledgeable graduates from colleges who still can be further empowered to make a significant difference in the sector if they are given the opportunity to become involved in the field, to learn firsthand from experts and gain practical experience which both build confidence and increase insight and knowledge.

The goal is not to be successful, though; the goal is to be valuable. Once you are valuable, instead of chasing success, it will attract itself to you.

In November 2016, Grain SA Farmer Development team members approached the Provincial Department of Agriculture for their assistance with more mechanisation support for the farmers who are mentored by them. We were delighted when during this discussion the idea of an internship programme was born.

Our goal is that 19 graduates in agriculture will be employed and become members of the Grain SA Farmer Development team as interns. This programme will then run in conjunction with the mechanisation support contributed to the programme by the department. The interns’ objective is to gain practical experience with the primary focus on grain production and farmer development.

The exposure includes practical experience, where the interns will receive hands-on experience by doing the following themselves and then teaching other farmers to do it:

  • Planter calibrations
  • Boom sprayer calibrations
  • Mapping of land, using GPS
  • Farm equipment maintenance
  • Crop yield estimates

The interns will also participate in training and assist with Grain SA farmer training courses in grain production. These are invaluable courses which have a good balance between theory and the practical application thereof.

Other learning opportunities and skills development activities will be acquired during the Grain SA social facilitation tasks, which include study group meetings, farmers days and advanced farmer encounters.

All Grain SA’s farmer development work is done responsibly with a view of encouraging accurate record keeping, log book maintenance and detailed accountability so we can report to all our partners. In this regard interns will be allowed to participate in administrative and reporting activities and will benefit from computer training and skills development.

The roaring lion kills no prey
We need to change perceptions that college graduates only have ‘head knowledge’, but are not able to assist with practical solutions in the field. It is true that one of the challenges Grain SA Farmer Development has, is finding competent mentors for the ever-expanding programme – especially those willing to work in deep rural areas where the need is greatest.

We are therefore eager to cultivate young mentors who share the same passion for land transformation and sustainable farmer development through an internship programme like this. We see the benefit as being twofold:

  • The interns obtain relevant experience, which builds their confidence and empowers them, so they are equipped and positioned to apply for good jobs.
  • Grain SA Farmer Development is given the opportunity to train the calibre of mentors that we need in the field for future farmer development.

The key role played by the Department of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) is to:

  • Fund the mechanisation support made available to Grain SA Farmer Development for the farmers.
  • Contribute to the stipend received by the graduates who are appointed as interns with Grain SA.

The key role of Grain SA Farmer Development is to:

  • Conduct overall supervision and monitoring of interns through Grain SA’s development managers in the province.
  • Enable interns by assigning them to accompany experienced mentors in conducting their daily tasks.
  • Give specific tasks to and monitor and coach interns.
  • Enable mentors to continue carrying out their duties with one or two interns assigned to them.
  • Submit reports to the provincial co-ordinator for assessment every Friday.

Together we are making a difference
We are pleased to report that the DRDAR and Grain SA Farmer Development Programme have already signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which commenced in the 2017/2018 season – so we are already about to embark on year two of this inspiring project.

Involvement of youth in agriculture
We have had such positive feedback from the project so far that both partners have been convinced that through this joint approach we could unlock job creation, commercialise rural farmers quicker and ensure engaged youth in the agricultural sector. We are convinced that for the agricultural sector to grow and thrive we need to involve the youth of the country. Too often this is easier said than done.

The average farmer in South Africa is 65+ years old. The average age of farmers involved in the current Jobs Fund Project – a partnership between ourselves and the Jobs Fund, making a huge impact on small farmer development – is 50+ years.

There is seemingly very little interest from the youth. We believe that a lack of experience and practical skills development are contributory factors. Too often our young agricultural graduates don’t have the relevant experience to farm or apply for a job in extension services. They lack the practical knowledge to start farming and lack confidence to chase after ideal jobs in
agriculture.

We believe this programme, although currently only operating on a very small scale, has great potential to alleviate these issues and could become a significant part of future farmer development if it were to spread its net ever wider across the provinces.

#TogetherWeMakeADifference. We are not shy to say we are very excited to take part in increasing the number of youth in the agricultural sector.

Publication: July 2018

Section: Grain SA