South Africa (SA) still lags behind in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals of food security and poverty eradication. The current trends of education in SA affect the agriculture sector. Agriculture information is not integrated with other development programmes to address the numerous related problems faced by small-scale and emerging farmers. Information is an essential ingredient in agricultural development programmes. There is fragmentation and lack of coordination within the system particularly with respect to governance, finance, articulation, progression and mobility.
Educating and training people on agriculture can significantly contribute towards promoting and capacitating small scale and emerging farmers. However, the challenge in achieving this potential is that there is poor and inconsistent quality control (variation among institutions), and poor quality of staff especially in most agriculture schools and Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges. In addition, the ineffective and non-responsive education and training systems (curriculum, staff quality, poor linkage between Agricultural Education and Training (AET) providers and industry, low research base) and poor access to AET by emerging and new entrants into the agricultural sector makes it harder for people to get good agricultural training. Underlying these difficulties is the negative career image of agriculture that is painted by society. This is exacerbated by the shortage of critical skills in agricultural fields such as production, engineering, economics and development.
Given the relatively small size of the small-scale agriculture sector in SA at the moment compared to the commercial farming sector, and its potential for economic growth, food security, employment and poverty alleviation, an investment in land development and land reform is crucial for the sector to grow. Investment in human capital development, in the form of professional, managerial and technical training, produced by investment in schools, FET and agricultural colleges, universities, and formal and informal farmer training will also be valuable in promoting the small-scale farming sector. One idea is for agricultural colleges and universities to adopt schools where agriculture can be taught as part of the school curriculum. The small-scale farming sector can be further enhanced by improvements in the performance of farmers’ services and support institutions such as marketing, credit, research and extension; and by promoting agriculture as an integral component of the rural development agenda.
Marketing of agriculture as a profession through career days, conferences, and exhibitions is critical to changing community mindsets and to eradicate the dependency syndrome on social grants and heavy reliance on charity and remittances. Small-scale agriculture has an important role to play in food production and in keeping rural communities vibrant. Small-scale agriculture in SA is in a period of flux, exploration and experimentation. It will only be a success if there is synergy from all departments and a willingness to engage from the communities themselves.
- Mulugheta G Araia, Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry.