Theme: Towards an Inclusive and Responsive Agriculture Education
All State Senior Officials
Non-Governmental Organisations Leadership
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me enormous pleasure to address this 1st AgriEd Imbizo under the theme, “Towards an Inclusive and Responsive Agriculture Education.” The ultimate objective of this AgriEd Imbizo is to deal with the urgent need to recalibrate the agricultural education sector in South Africa. We have come to a deliberate conclusion that the agricultural education in our country is in the doldrums.
Programme Director, it is therefore vital that we collectively meet today through this AgriEd Imbizo which brings together industry experts, teachers, researchers and other role-players. Our immediate task is to distil the most intractable problems facing the agricultural education sector in our country. We must puzzle fit all pieces of knowledge, research and anecdotal evidence so that we emerge here with a comprehensive plan to overhaul the system in its entirety.
At the heart of the matter is the improvement of a country’s human resource capacity for productivity which is a prerequisite for social, economic and technological development. Our obvious bias is towards rural areas that are still trapped in colonial/apartheid spatial planning.
Generally, there are many complex factors that influence sustainable Agricultural and Rural development. Recent studies of Agricultural Education and Training (AET) in sub-Saharan Africa suggest that many Agricultural education curricula have shortcomings as they are unresponsive, and in appropriate to socio-economic, technological, physical and environmental changes in the rural sector and the local context (Wallace et al., 1996).
Programme Director, South Africa is no exception. In fact, if researchers are to be believed, the situation is dire. According to Professor Frans Swanepoel, “there are only a few agricultural secondary schools in the country.” Professor Swanepoel is a Research Fellow in Residence with focus on Future Africa at the Centre for Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria. The research report I am referring to was published in the journal, The Conversation in 2017.
It emerges from Prof Swanepoel research report that at secondary school level, Agricultural Science as subject is a popular choice. The only snag about the popularity of Agricultural Science as a subject is that it only requires a textbook and a teacher for it to be taught. Yet, our curriculum makes provision for two other significant subjects namely, the Agricultural Technology, and Agricultural Management Practices. These crucial subjects go beyond the normative understating of the agricultural theory, but require practical component which may include farming implements, a viable farm and machinery. Thus, they have the potentially to produce fully-fledged agricultural practitioners, in an environment that is condusive, and the school itself will be self-sustainable.
Unfortunately, our own research also confirms Prof Swanepoel’s diagnosis. Looking at the National Senior Certificate data for 2017, it emerges that out of some 25 000 schools in the country, only 2528 of them offer Agricultural Science as a subject. Sadly, only 11 offer Agricultural Technology and about 55 schools offer Agricultural Management Practices.
In terms of raw numbers, we aren’t doing well either. We have a total of 112 242 learners registered for agriculture education, of these only 930 are registered for Agriculture Technology. And, 2556 are registered for Agricultural Management Practices. The staggering 108 756 are enrolled for Agricultural Science.
This dismal participation rates in mainstream agriculture education decreases awareness of a variety of careers offered by this industry. Some of these careers include but not limited to Agricultural Engineer, Agricultural Food Scientist, Agricultural Inspector, Agricultural Manager, Agricultural Specialist, Agronomist, Aquatic Ecologist, and Arborist. The most affected learners are those in Quintal 1-3. This is the bulk of learners from very poor provinces and communities wherein agriculture is often the only source of livelihood including job opportunities.
Our last-ditch attempt at arresting the problem of agriculture education will play an important role in preparing the next layer of farmers, researchers, educators, extension staff, and members of Agri-businesses and others to make productive contributions to the sector.
Programme Director, looking at the numbers, it is clear that there is something very wrong with this picture. If we are to extract maximum benefits offered by the agricultural industry, then the skills mismatch must be corrected. The agricultural value chain offers a variety of careers as I have already mentioned.
Programme Director, it does not help that there is now an emergence of e-Agriculture that relates to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for sustainable agriculture and rural development. ICT in agriculture offers a wide range of solutions to some agricultural challenges. It is seen as an emerging field focusing on the enhancement of agricultural and rural development through improved information and communication processes. Hence, we must overhaul the subject offering and move towards having more learners taking up Agricultural Technology as a subject of choice if we are to prepare our country for the 4th Industrial Revolution.
As though the low participation rate at the secondary school level were not shocking enough, Prof Swanepoel’s research report found that in the tertiary sector there were only 12 agricultural colleges that offer specialised training. And, only ten of the country’s 26 public universities also offer agricultural science degree programmes up to doctoral level.
Furthermore, Professor Swanepoel points out that the current system of managing education and training is fragmented and in dire need of substantial reform. For example, responsibility for agricultural education and training is split between research councils and various government departments.
On top of this, agricultural colleges are administered at the provincial level and aren’t formally part of the national higher education system.
Postgraduate education, training and research at universities is supported by the Department of Science and Technology through the National Research Foundation. But there’s no formal mechanism to coordinate the work of these various entities.
This AgriEd Imbizo must interrogate this anomaly and find a seamless and integrated system of offering agricultural education in the country.
As we know the majority of our schools are located in underdeveloped rural areas. Despite 24 years of democracy, the great majority of children in South Africa's rural poor communities are educationally disadvantaged. "Worse still is the fact that this [educational disadvantage] will have long-term effects on their opportunities for development, their capabilities and their lives.” “Moreover, the communities in which they live continue to suffer the debilitating effects of poverty and inequality,” according to the 2005 study, 'Emerging Voices: A Report on Education in South African Rural Communities'.
A survey in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces found that poverty and unemployment were "starkly present in the everyday realities" of people living in rural areas.
The report produced by the Nelson Mandela Foundation noted that "poverty conditions the ability of families and children to engage with education", particularly among "households facing food insecurity on a daily basis".
It is here where we should be investing in our people so that they can pull themselves out of the poverty trap. Research has repeatedly pointed out that agriculture provides employment opportunities for rural people on a large scale in underdeveloped and developing countries. It is an important source of livelihood. Thus, the rising agricultural surplus caused by increasing agricultural production and productivity tends to improve social welfare, particularly in rural areas.
Agriculture is viewed as a vital means through which poverty and unemployment can be addressed and one of the long-term strategies conceived so far to improve participation is education and training. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that Agriculture contributes 4% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for 10% of reported employment (OECD Observer, 2006).
However, the Agricultural sector in South Africa is not only dualistic with a developed commercial farming sector which co-exists with a large number of subsistence (communally owned) farms, but in terms of actual size of production, education and technological know-how, it is still primarily in the hands of White South Africans.
Consequently, the challenge for the country is therefore to bring the previously excluded black community into the mainstream economy through job creation and entrepreneurship and Agriculture is clearly one important avenue to redress past inequalities. As pointed out in the OECD Observer (2006), higher economic growth in South Africa will not be possible without addressing, among others, problems such as illiteracy and low education levels which are most prevalent in rural South Africa, and where Agriculture is most likely to play an important role in resolving both economic and human development.
The South African government has made the creation of employment one of its main goals. For this purpose, it has identified six key drivers of employment creation in its New Growth Path, with one of them being employment in the agricultural value chain (DTI, 2009). Agriculture’s role in the creation of employment was also integrated into the Nation Planning Commission’s 2011, National Development Plan (NDP).
Programme Director, the value of primary agricultural production in South Africa was R263,2 billion in 2016, while its contribution to the GDP was estimated at R72,2 billion in 2015. Over the years, the other sectors of the South African economy have grown faster than the agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing sector, resulting in a drop in agriculture’s share of the GDP from more than 6% in the 1970s to 2,0% in 2015.
Despite its relatively small share of the total GDP, primary agriculture is an important sector in the South African economy. Agriculture remains a significant provider of employment, especially in the rural areas, and a major earner of foreign exchange.
However, if we get all our ducks in a row, according to Professor Swanepoel, Agriculture can deliver more jobs per rand invested than any other productive sector. If the entire agriculture value chain is considered in South Africa, its contribution to GDP reaches approximately 12%. He opined that South Africa has the ability to meet national food requirements - yet more than 7 million citizens experience hunger. A further 22.6% of households have inadequate access to food.
There are a number of reasons for this. Unsustainable food production practices have led to soil erosion, biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change. There is also increased competition with other industries, like biofuels, for the use of arable land. Declined access to quality water and the failure to address land redistribution are also contributing factors. On the issue of land, this Imbizo will get a nuanced analysis on Land expropriation without compensation.
Agriculture’s prominent, indirect role in the economy is a function of backward and forward linkages to other sectors. Purchases of goods such as fertilisers, chemicals and implements form backward linkages with the manufacturing sector, while forward linkages are established through the supply of raw materials to the manufacturing industry. About 70% of agricultural output is used as intermediate products in the sector. Agriculture is therefore a crucial sector and an important engine of growth for the rest of the economy.
It is with this enormous potential of agriculture that necessitated establishment of the Agriculture Task Team comprised of Maths Science and Technology (MST) subject specialists in 2017. The main purpose of the Task Team is to provide a strategic direction to the establishment of a Self-sufficient Agriculture Model School that will offer Agriculture education that responds to the country’s changing labour market, socio-economic needs and rural contexts.
The ultimate task of the Task Team is to draft a report on Agriculture Education that will be informed by expertise, research and consultation. The Task Team has made considerable progress. We will glean some of its wisdom from the preliminary report during this engagement in this AgriEd Imbizo.
In conclusion, as you deliberate on the overhaul of agriculture education in our country, I therefore appeal to all of you to bear in mind the agriculture industry holds an enormous potential for millions of people especially most vulnerable amongst us.
We must honestly find that in the future there there is a causal link between viable agricultural schools and reduced levels of poverty in our communities. This AgriEd Imbizo must be mindful of the fact that improving agricultural education is not a stand alone project, but part of a movement to improve rural education in general.
I thank you.