Speech by Minister Senzeni Zokwana at the Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Training Institute Imbizo, Keskamahoek
Members of Fort Cox Board
Farmers and Industry stakeholders
Members of Association of Students of Agricultural Training Institutes (ASATI)
Student Representative Council
Lecturers and students
Ladies and gentlemen.
Molweni, Good morning
We are gathered here today to engage with the College and its key stakeholders assisting in the provision of vocational education in agriculture and forestry. The National Development Plan has identified agriculture as having a potential to create a million jobs by 2030. For the country to achieve this there is a need to include youth in the main stream of the economy. Contrary to this, our country is typified by an alarming high unemployment rate which is reportedly the third-highest in the world. More than 50% of youth in South Africa is estimated to be unemployed.
Notwithstanding being a leading economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa’s economic growth is not inclusive and tends to exacerbate income inequalities, especially among the already traditionally marginalized groups such as youth and women. In my opinion, part of the solution of this scourge of youth unemployment should be the 11 Colleges of Agriculture. My understanding for the existence of these Colleges is that they were originally meant to produce young farmers, not job seekers. I am quite aware that there has been a shift in terms of focus for these Colleges as they fell in the hands of different administrations with different priorities. However, the status quo cannot be left to chance. Drastic actions need to be taken to address the gross imbalance between the rapidly increasing population and the people who produce food in the country.
In the absence of any legislation in the country governing Colleges of Agriculture, Fort Cox is the only College that is autonomous due to the Fort Cox Institute Interim Provisions Act of 2015. This was supposed to be an opportunity that we are all supposed to take advantage of and build this College to be a centre of excellence in agriculture and forestry. Ironically, this legal opportunity has been used against the College, instead this College is neglected and not receiving the support it deserves in terms of financial resources. I am aware of the Master Plan on rural wealth creation programmes that the College has developed under the leadership of the Board. This Master Plan is gathering dust and it is unfunded. From the brief I received, the purpose of this envisaged rural creation centre is to establish 600 cooperatives that will participate in “one cooperative, one hectare” programme that will create sustainable rural entrepreneurial ventures. What a noble concept! I want to commend the Fort Cox Board for taking leadership and spearheading such a good initiative.
I launched Norms and Standards for Agricultural Training Institutes in October 2015. The Norms and Standards advocates for these Colleges becoming centres of excellence serving their specific rural communities according to their agro ecological zones. We want all the Colleges to be identified and known along the commodities they serve just like Fort Cox is serving the rural communities in its vicinity with agricultural and forestry skills. This current financial year that Department is going around in provinces reinforcing the implementation of these Norms and Standards.
I cannot overemphasise the role our industry and stakeholder partners should play. I am therefore, urging all the industry and Growers Associations present here to join hands with us to develop these Colleges to be what they were intended to be. Government alone cannot achieve this. We need you to avail resources and absorb the graduates from these Colleges and train them further to become young farmers of note.
Our country is characterised by a considerably low entrepreneurial activity relative to most of our Sub-Saharan African countries. According to the UN World Food Programme hunger statistics, the Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence of hunger. Research depicts an enormous decline in the number of South Africa’s commercial farmers since 1994. This decrease is mainly due to consolidation and the on - going land reform processes. The current few commercial farmers in the country still carry the responsibility of feeding a population of more than 50 million people.
This threat requires a coherent radical approach, and one such approach is bringing youth on board. The involvement of youth will ensure continuity and sustainability of the agricultural production. This will in the process, assist in improving household food security and the creation of employment opportunities in rural areas, and consequently reduce rural migration to urban areas. There will never be the right time than now to put youth economic empowerment high on the sector’s transformation agenda. History will judge us if we can undermine the self-less efforts of those who came before us.
I know most of you are wondering, why the department is making so much efforts when there is a decision to transfer this Colleges to the Department of Higher Education and Training. I have made a principle decision with the Minister of Higher Education and Training last year October to allow the process of due diligence in the 11 Colleges to finish. When the team that is doing due diligence is done with their work they will present their report to us and we will interrogate it and take a decision of where these Colleges should reside. Our decision will be presented to Cabinet around September this year. Those of you that are based in these Colleges especially the lecturers and students, I encourage you to be patient to the process and wait for the outcome.
I thank you.