The National Development Plan (NDP) estimates that the agricultural industry has the potential to create close to one million new jobs by the year 2030. This would be a great feat considering that the International Labour Organisation’s 2015 report estimated youth unemployment to be sitting at 52.5%.
Closer to home, Agriculture South Africa (AgriSA) estimates that the average age of a farmer in South Africa is 62. What this simply means is that there are business opportunities in the agricultural sector but they are not being profitably tapped into by the youth.
One of the exceptions to this case is Youth Agrihub Agricultural Primary Co-operative Ltd (YAAPC); a fully operational business that runs as an agricultural co-operative in the town of eJozini.
The business is fully owned and run by five young and ambitious agriculture graduates, namely Mzwandile Nhleko, Gqamile Mthiyane, Sipho Mhlongo, Scelokuhle Mathe and Mthokozisi Nhleko.
Armed with sound experience in plant and animal production, the co-operative caters to tons of customers. They also offer a variety of premium seedlings and vegetables to supply at local retailers as well as to individual farmers. They do all of this from their 5 hectare Mjindi irrigation scheme which they recently acquired under their business name.
Telling to the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa, the business started when its members, all unemployed at the time, decided to join forces and use their skills and education to become farmers instead of waiting for handouts.
This was a smooth move as most of them already came from a farming background outside of their education. The members had to use their own savings to finance the business. Making the transition from graduates to sustainable business owners also required that they do their fair share of planning and research.
“Farming just like any other business has risks, so it is important to gain the necessary insight that will help you run a sustainable farming enterprise”, said Nhleko, one of the founders.
According to Nhleko, businesses need to extensively look into market research, access to land, means to finance, a thought-out marketing plan for products and keep up to date with the industry’s latest trends.
Along with a well managed production plan, this helps the business to minimize losses and ensure good management practices at the farm. Proper execution has seen the cooperative run efficiently and avoid a number of hiccups. However, they are fully aware of factors that may be beyond their control such as natural disasters.
In the front line of the business, its founders have adopted a hands-on approach, having a direct involvement in the day to day running of it. The YAAPC currently has four permanent employees and four more on a temporary basis outside of its founders.
The response to its products since it started, has been largely positive, more so among the local community members and supermarkets. They now supply the King Cetshwayo Fresh Produce Market and established relations with other cooperatives to supply them with seedlings for their farms.
Looking at the future of the business, Nhleko says their vision is to become the leading producer of seedlings and fresh produce in the province of KwaZulu and eventually nationwide. Not stopping there, as part of their growth strategy, they are venturing into hydroponics farming (tunnel farming). They hope that more young people gain access to agricultural education and land, as they believe this will see them tapping into the mainstream economy.
For more info and enquiries, email: email@example.com or Whatsapp: +27 73 269 4912 and follow @mzwa_nhleko on twitter.
~ Thabisile Ngeleka