Young leaders ready to serve at SA Canegrowers
Growers newly elected to the SA Canegrowers’ Board say they are not only committed to promoting the sector as a profitable career for young achievers but are also ready to drive decision making to favour easier land access and finance for up-and-coming black sugarcane farmers.
Mpumalanga grower, Mfundo Msimango, who was elected to the SA Canegrowers’ Board at a virtual Annual General Meeting held earlier this month, said he was more than ready to promote the sector as an attractive profession from which young people were able to make a good living.
“I was in Grade 11 when my father passed away in 2004. I had to take over the running of the farm near Komati in Mpumalanga. It was just 10ha. Today I have 77ha. But it wasn’t easy. I was running the farm using my phone because I also studied for a BSc Degree (Quantity Surveying). I then worked for two years to make sure I was able to have some sort of financial track record so I could apply for agriculture finance aimed at supporting smallscale growers.”
Also elected to the SA Canegrowers’ Board at the meeting, Pratish Sharma said the current challenges facing the country’s sugar industry meant change was not only inevitable, but necessary.
It was now up to those such as Msimango and himself to make sure the changes were favourable for those still wanting a future in sugarcane farming.
“There are lots of relatively young people – such as me – whose futures are going to be impacted by decisions made now by the industry’s leadership. We really have to get into the scrum of sugar politics now and make a difference. Younger people have ideas, they have exuberance and they have a lot to bring to the table. The sustainability of the sugar industry in this country I believe, is now dependent on leadership that is not only wise and experienced, but has young thinking in the mix,” Sharma said.
SA Canegrowers’ Chairman, Rex Talmage said the election of the younger growers onto the Board was to target the development and support of young leaders in the industry.
“The research has shown us that we need to actively support our younger members. In response to that we have identified the development of industry leaders who are not only knowledgeable and experienced but are given the opportunity to contribute to the future sustainability of the industry and their peers,” Talmage said.
The research, a paper authored by SA Canegrowers researchers Sinothando Dube and Richard Nicholson and titled: Youth in Agriculture: Securing the Future of Sugarcane Farming in South Africa, identified easy access to information, land and equipment as fundamental for young people wanting to start-up any agricultural enterprise.
Respondents between the ages of 25 and 35 from varied aspects of the sugar industry which included the milling, research and grower sectors said they believed older and established farmers should better communicate the benefits of farming to improve the perception of agriculture as a profession.
Msimango agreed saying the promotion of sugarcane farming to young people was critical for the survival of one of the most important contributors to employment particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
“I want my peers to know that they can afford a medical aid if they are farmers and they can support their families. Yes, it is hard work and yes it is difficult to grow an enterprise from 5ha to 100ha. As a member of the SA Canegrowers’ board I want to suggest incentives for young farmers and to find easy ways for small-scale growers to grow their enterprises to a more sustainable size. I am making a good living doing what I absolutely love, and so many others can do that too,” he said.
Pictures: Mfundo Msimango and Pratish Sharma