Opinion: Reaping what we sow – Unlocking opportunities for youth in agribusiness

Mandla Mpofu was appointed deputy chair of the Agbiz Congress 2024, which took place recently at Sun City. He believes South Africa’s agricultural sector can earn its place alongside leading competitors in the global arena through inspiring young agripreneurs and innovators to step up and shape the industry of the future.

By: Mandla Mpofu, managing director of Omnia Agriculture

In the past, the agricultural sector may have been accused of not proactively positioning itself as “youth-friendly”, of failing to present accessible and rewarding career opportunities for most young people. However, this is changing as new opportunities within the sector emerge, driven by technological progress.

The youth tend to associate a career in agriculture with being a farmer. Farmers are integral and important to agriculture, but farming is not easily accessible to every South African. If there is an opportunity to get into farming for the youth, that is great. However, it is not always an easy career path because it tends to be a “generational” career; farmers often pass their land, businesses and learnings down to their children, who then pick up the baton.

What the youth need to realise – and what we as key industry players need to convey – is that a multitude of opportunities are available within modern-day agriculture.

Thus, we need to make the all-important mindset shift from agriculture to agribusiness, and everything that comes with it. Young people may not be interested in being farmers but they may very well be eager to become agriconomists or even agripreneurs, who can service the industry using game-changing technology.

In an age where technology will become the greatest equaliser between the developing and developed worlds, we have an unprecedented chance to shift this narrative. Let us rather see farmers as innovators who have the technological tools and know-how to build a more future-fit, resilient sector.

New horizons for agripreneurs

Landmark developments in precision farming, automated steering systems and advanced telematics for monitoring and optimising farm operations will play a pivotal role in the evolution of agriculture. These technological milestones have intersected with a greater focus on sustainability, as the world gears up to mitigate the effects of climate change.

With environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives now being key considerations in how agribusinesses conduct their operations, the sector also holds bright prospects in terms of much-needed employment opportunities and social upliftment.

This “futuristic lens” on the potential of the sector is the main reason why bringing more young people into agriculture is so important. It’s more than just farming. It’s about all the changes we’re seeing along the entire value chain – exciting, new challenges in robotics, satellite imaging, drone technology and engineering.”

Sowing the seeds of success

Investing in the youth is one of Omnia Agriculture’s key impact areas. The group is a core sponsor of initiatives such as the Boereplanne Farmer Innovation Competition, hosted at Nampo – one of the largest agricultural exhibitions in the southern hemisphere.

The competition encourages engineering students, agronomists and economists to enter their ideas or inventions for agricultural solutions to stand a chance of winning a significant cash prize, potential funding, scholarships and other career-enhancing opportunities.

Omnia Agriculture also runs a graduate internship programme that provides recent graduates with an introduction to agribusiness across various disciplines, including mechanical engineering, analytical chemistry, supply chain and mining engineering. Through initiatives such as these, the group aims to create a sustainable pipeline of talent that can fill critical roles within the organisation and the industry at large.

Our goal as an industry leader is to find young people who have the potential and the desire to make an impact and help drive positive change within agriculture. Through our outreach initiatives, we hope to provide them with the education, training and resources they require to ignite their interest in the sector and help them build thriving careers.

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