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Private sector programme is sowing the seeds of empowerment for agricultural graduates.

Agricultural Studies graduate Primness Mashego, now a junior manager at a Mpumalanga commercial farm, reckons it would have taken her much longer to reach her current position had she gone the traditional job-seeking way after her studies.

Mashego (24) obtained an Agricultural Management diploma in plant production from the University of Mpumalanga in 2019. In February last year she started a programme with RecruitAgri, which offers graduates experience and training as farm managers on macadamia farms.

The organisation, which was started by three independent farmers – GA Chalkley Estates (Pty) Ltd, Agristar Holdings (Pty) Ltd and Lochaber (Pty) Ltd – and is now supported by various businesses, aims to expose agriculture graduates to different farming practices through a one-year structured practical farming course.

It targets graduates aged 25 and younger and offers subjects related to macadamia and avocado farming. Since 2018, 33 graduates have completed the course and found jobs on farms. The students are paid a monthly stipend.

“University gave me knowledge [but] fieldwork gave me practical experience,” said Mashego, who oversees a team of 10 farm hands boasting years of practical experience. Lack of experience has been cited as a contributor to youth unemployment. President Cyril Ramaphosa even supported calls by the National Youth Development Agency for employers to scrap experience as a key requirement for entry-level jobs.

The RecruitAgri programme serves as a bridge for Agricultural Studies graduates facing this dilemma.

“I wish every graduate could get this opportunity. We come from varsity with qualifications, but this programme gives us practical exposure,” said University of Venda BSc Agriculture graduate Delisile Mabila (26).

She is doing her training with RecruitAgri in White River in Mpumalanga. Mabila, who is pursuing a master’s degree and is set to complete her practical studies in November, reckons this course has prepared her for managing a farm. Her long-term plan is to start her own macadamia farm.

Australia is the leading producer of macadamias in the world, contributing more than 30% of the global crop; 70% is exported. SA is ranked among the smaller players , but it is projected that the demand for macadamias will grow significantly by 2030. According to Macadamias South Africa, the total value of the annual crop has increased from R32-million in 1996 to about R4.8-billion this year. The organisation says that last year the macadamia industry planted 5,351 new hectares in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Cyril Maseko, a 2019 graduate of the RecruitAgri programme, is now a production manager overseeing about 135 workers. He is responsible for planning daily duties for the team and ensuring everything is within the budget.

“After graduation you are either faced with unemployment or you are going to chase internship after internship,” said Maseko from Kabokweni near Mbombela in Mpumalanga.

He was working as a trainee section manager in Limpopo when he saw an ad for RecruitAgri.

“I was straight from school. But the chances of getting work for me then were very, very slim. After joining RecruitAgri, my chances of employment just skyrocketed. In farming, experience counts,” said Maseko.

The programme helped him gain experience in different aspects of the farming business. During his degree studies he did one month of practical work on a community project, which he feels is inadequate.

“Farming is not only about planting. I learnt about people management, financial management. We had different mentors from different farms, different challenges. Some of the techniques that I use now at work, I saw them at RecruitAgri,” he said.

During the 10-month programme, the trainees spend at least two months at each farm doing practical work, while also doing a course under the tutelage of Roy Porritt, who has extensive experience of farming in Zimbabwe and SA. He studied in the US, specialising in irrigation techniques.

Porritt said the idea behind the curriculum was to prepare the students for roles as farm managers. They learn to understand the entire process of managing a farm.

“You can do all the theory at varsity. But you need the practical opportunity to understand the practical requirements of running a farm

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