Empowering Farmers through Knowledge

Empowering Farmers: Agribusiness Transformation Programme Cultivates Success in South Africa.

The Agribusiness Transformation Programme, a partnership between the University of the Free State (UFS) and one of South Africa’s major banks, has been making significant strides in empowering farmers and contributing to agricultural output. With over 100 farmers in the Free State and 18 in the Northern Cape already receiving training through the program, its success is evident. Additionally, more farmers have enrolled, demonstrating the program’s continued growth and impact.

The program, initiated in 2018, was established by UFS, Standard Bank, and the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Its main objective is to develop black commercial farmers and foster a sustainable black-owned agricultural sector in South Africa. The farmers enrolled in the program underwent specialized training, covering various farming principles such as animal health, animal management, pasture management, feeding, crop production, water and soil management, and farm management, including business training, entrepreneurship, and mentorship. Companies like GWK and Sernick also provided access to their applications, enriching the learning experience.

The Entrepreneurial Value Chain program, managed by Prof JW Swanepoel from UFS’s Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development and coordinated by Dr Johan van Zyl, Senior Researcher at the Central University of Technology, in collaboration with Standard Bank, has been instrumental in providing knowledge, markets, and finance to smaller black commercial farmers. Brendan Jacobs, Standard Bank’s Head of Business in the Free State and Northern Cape, emphasized the program’s impact on farmers’ operations, reporting a remarkable improvement rate of over 90%. Many farmers expanded their activities, with some venturing into agri-processing, such as producing juice from spinach or canned vegetables like beetroot and beans.

The need for transformation within the agricultural sector was recognized at the outset of the program. Access to funding, markets, skills, and information were identified as crucial elements for the success of commercial farming operations. The program aims to address these needs, contributing to the development of a sustainable agricultural force that represents the diversity of the country.

Prof Danie Vermeulen, the Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UFS, highlighted the importance of comprehensive understanding in modern agriculture. Farmers need to navigate various aspects, including production management, finance, investment, technology, and market systems. Dr Nhlonipho Nhlabatsi, Chief Director of the Department of Agricultural Development and Sustainable Livelihoods, expressed his appreciation for the program and its inclusion of female farmers, who comprise one third of the participants.

The perspective of the students involved in the program reflects their gratitude and enthusiasm for the knowledge and skills they have gained. Lehlohonolo Kenneth acknowledged that farming is not as simple as it may seem and that a solid foundation is essential. Sipho November emphasized the multi-faceted nature of agriculture and the importance of working with nature. Daleen van Straten Terblanche expressed her aspiration to contribute to improved food security in South Africa with the knowledge and skills she acquired through the program.

As the recent ceremony concluded, Prof Swanepoel congratulated all the farmers and encouraged them to remain proactive and prepared for any challenges that may arise. The Agribusiness Transformation Programme has undoubtedly made a positive impact on farmers, equipping them with the necessary skills and resources to thrive in the agricultural sector.

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