The future of the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency’s Young Farmers was last week brought under scrutiny, with members of parliament questioning its feasibility after it emerged that it faces collapse because the youth do not seem to appreciate it much.
Despite government pumping millions into the fund, it has emerged that a lot of young farmers have not embraced the fund as vigorously as anticipated to ensure that it survives.
Assistant Minister for Agriculture Oreeditse Molebatsi last week lamented the youth’s lack of drive in the agriculture sector, as his ministry finds itself caught in a web of contradictory statements concerning the food security of the country and attempts to diversify the economy.
Government has until recently been hailing the Young Farmers Fund as a great success over the years, even shrugging off concerns that the country could possibly experience food shortage during the South Africa FIFA World Cup. But government last week recoiled and stated that the cultivated fields in the current ploughing season are inadequate.
On Thursday, Molebatsi who seems to have lost faith in the efforts of the Young Farmers Fund to fish out the ailing agricultural sector from collapsing, stopping short of labeling the fund as a waste and revealing that the youth have shown little interest in scheme.
“Despite my ministry’s continued support of youth development initiatives in agriculture we are concerned by the lack of youth participation in the sector, and we continue to be worried by the tendency of many youths to abandon their projects,” he revealed.
He added “We will continue to identify appropriate attachment opportunities in established business for youth to benefit from proper exposure that will enable success of their projects.”
The agricultural sector’s contribution to national GDP has shrunk from 65% at independence to just under 3% to date. Although agriculture is still one of the major employing sectors in the country its contribution has been substituted by the mining sector, especially the diamond industry, which contributes 40% percent to GDP and over 55% to government revenue.
While acknowledging the youth’s incompetence in agriculture, Molebatsi said that his ministry is gearing up to provide the necessary technical assistance aimed at supporting those who desire to venture into the sector.
“We have established a ministry toll free number and re-branded the ministry under one logo. We are continuing to work on restructuring the ministry and decentralizing services to achieve efficient service delivery and improve food security” he said.
The agriculture ministry also intends to have districts categorized according to their suitability for agricultural production, and cluster agricultural service providers according to need.
Molebatsi added that there is a need to push the country’s economic diversification ambitions and prop up agriculture a one of the national pillars of growth.
Agriculture still remains a source of livelihood for a majority of the population, with as much as 80% of the population still dependent on subsistence farming.
In line with the theme of this year’s national budget, transforming our economy after the crisis; 2010 and beyond, Molebatsi pledged to identify areas in the arable and in the livestock subsector on which government will work to realize transformation.
“These areas are cereal production, horticulture and honey production in the arable subsector and dairy production and small stock production in the livestock subsector. Beef production, in which we have been doing relatively well, will also continue as a focus area.
“We also expect to realize significant import substitution with local production in the areas,” he said.