Building Young Female Farmers of Tomorrow

Young Women in Agriculture Programme, the Sustainability Institute and World Bank’s Youth Innovation Fund, South Africa 2016

On a beautifully sunny April weekend in 2016, the Sustainability Institute was filled with laughter, excitement and learning. 46 female students aged between 14 and 18 from Lynedoch Valley and Stellenbosch in the Western Cape participated in an in-residency training programme in agriculture – funded by the Youth Innovation Fund at the World Bank – designed to support and inspire young women to imagine a future in farming and working with the environment.

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Through a dynamic programme of practical demonstrations, workshops and field trips, the 4-month Young Women in Agriculture programme (April – July 2016) aimed to expose young women from underserved communities to basic agroecology concepts, tangible organic farming skills and a variety of professional pathways in the sector. Targeted at teenagers with an existing interest in the topic, the multi-week programme worked to activate this awareness about food and the environment, by building their skills and introducing them to multiple ’ways in’ to a career in agriculture. This is part of the Sustainability Institute’s broader aim to address youth unemployment and the creation of sustainable food systems through supporting young people into green economy careers in sustainable agriculture and food value chains.

To help with this, emphasis was placed on participants receiving training from female role-models and farmers in South Africa’s agricultural sector and young farmers being trained at the Sustainability Institute. By exposing these young women to professionals and agri-entrepreneurs from their communities, the programme sought to break the stigma in South Africa of working on the land, and present it as a viable and aspirational career opportunity. Furthermore, it has significant potential to increase gender equality in the Institute’s Agroecology Academy and other higher education institutions in South Africa by expanding the pool of young women interested in agriculture.

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Why this programme is needed

The Cape Winelands is renowned for its picturesque scenery, tourist activities and excellent wines. However, the story of the systematic exclusion and disenfranchisement of Black and Coloured people in the area prior to, and persisting in South Africa’s democracy is lesser known. Land ownership, housing and high quality education continues to be inaccessible to most South Africans because of persistent structural inequality and cycles of poverty.

Today, farm workers in the Cape Winelands continue to live and work under adverse conditions that are the legacy of apartheid policies. Communities are plagued with high levels of alcohol abuse and dependency primarily due to the former ‘dop’ system where many landowners of wine estates legally paid a portion of their farm- labourers’ salaries in alcohol. Rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in this region as a result of high alcohol consumption during pregnancy are some of the highest in the world.  A high percentage of children drop out of school (88% of those interviewed in a recent survey did not complete Grade 12), due to pressures that included the need to take care of younger siblings, doing chores, contributing to family income by working on the farm and teenage pregnancy.

While many youth in the winelands want a good job and higher standards of living, there are limited opportunities combined with high youth unemployment rates. Although many do have the chance to work on the land, most positions available are limited to basic farm labouring paid at minimum wage, giving employees little control over their own income and career trajectory. This programme aims to inspire and educate young women to pursue careers as professionals such as e.g. civil servants in government or entrepreneurs in the various opportunities across the entire agricultural value chain. Targeted initiatives are needed that secure livelihoods, empower and shift the land rights agenda so that young South Africans will be better placed to not only provide economically for themselves and their families, but give them a route to a fulfilling and secure occupation and healthy way of life.

What this program consisted of

The Young Women in Agriculture programme spanned 4 months of practical in residency demonstrations and trainings, workshops and field trips led by facilitators and emerging farmers. They worked together to design a learning experience that was student-centered and relevant to youth and the South African context. The programme consisted of three focus areas: A 2-day in-residency training programme in agriculture, a CV/career workshop and two field trips to a commercial wheat and sheep farm and the Spier Wine farm – both located in the Western Cape. The activities and outcomes of the program are summarized below and outlined under three sections focused on 1) enhanced skills and learning, 2) self-development and aspiration setting and 3) exploring and encounters

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  1. Enhancing skills and learning

Throughout the in-residency weekend, participants engaged in fun and informative activities including:

  • Increasing knowledge of local food around the world and key environmental challenges in South Africa and globally
  • Developing skills in organic food production, composting and backyard gardening
  • Cooking and healthy eating
  • Converting raw produce into commercial food products
  • Improving mental health, healing and wellbeing

The programme also integrated a “train-the-trainer” mentorship model aimed at emerging farmers from the Sustainability Institute’s Agroecology Academy, a nationally accredited, four-year youth development programme in sustainable food systems.

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Lead Facilitator Rosie Downey from the Sustainability Institute, and project Task Team Leaders Inka Schomer and Sarah Diouri from the World Bank mentored 9 students training to be young farmers to run the majority of workshops for the young women. This enabled them to grow their mentorship skills in order to support Academy students in younger years. The training concentrated on developing the young farmers’ leadership and facilitation skills with a focus on improving confidence, teamwork, adaptability and planning. A session on “How to get the most out of your 100 billion brain cells” was led by Dr. Helgo Schomer.

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  1. Self-development and aspiration setting

Throughout the CV/Career workshop, participants engaged in exercises and activities focused on self-development and participants were challenged to set aspirations for their future. Key activities included:

  • Working on personal visioning by exploring ones weaknesses, special skills, ones ambitions and dreams (e.g. at 25-years of age)
  • Structuring and developing content for one’s personal CV through using a template and examples. Discussions on how to apply for a job and drafting a cover letter for an application.
  • Overcoming personal challenges such as lack of financial resources, peer pressure and exploring opportunities such as scholarships and mentors
  • Increasing ones knowledge of the various careers in the agriculture sector learning about the support available from the national government
  • Hearing about the personal journey from women working in the agriculture sector and exchanging ideas

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 The workshop activities above were led by female role-models working in diverse professions in the sector. The format of the workshop consisted of modules focused on various interactive sessions with break-out groups. This allowed the participants to receive input and guidance in small groups and to engage closely with the women running each session. Lead facilitators included Amanda Luxande Sustainable Development Programme Manager at Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southern Africa, Toni Xaba Acting Chief Director-Rural Development at Elsenburg, Chuma, Babalwa and Rene Human, Nathalie Hendricks and Rachael Sitole from the Sustainability Institute. 

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  1. Exploring and encounters

Many of the participants live on or close to world famous farms but very few have had the opportunity to visit and learn about the ins and outs of commercial farms, the gastronomy industry and speak to professionals who work on the various jobs available in agriculture ranging from chicken farming to being a chef.  The first field trip consisted of a visit to a commercial sheep and wheat farm in the Swartland area. The young women and farmers were guided throughout the day by farm manager Mike Gregor on topics such as farming oats, barley, canola, sheep, cattle, and buffalo and learnt about machinery repair and sustainable agriculture practices.  The farm visit also provided a unique opportunity to see how commercial farming can be integrated with conservation given that 16 000 acre fynbos nature reserve has been set aside, which supports a breeding program for the Geometric Tortoise and the Quagga.

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The second field trip focused on the Spier Wine estate which is one of South Africa’s oldest wine farms, with a commitment to farm-to-table food, sustainable practices and community. The young women got to hear first-hand from Ceferino Cenizo who is part of a Biodynamic agriculture training program, run after chickens and learn about the symbiotic relationship between this farm animal and the land. Raz-Lee Hector led them through an interactive journey of the origin of flour and baking with a focus on artisanal methods and the young women also got to speak to various professionals (e.g. HR managers and spa assistance) working at the Spier Hotel which is Fair Trade certified.  Tactile learning was facilitated by Gaul Schulschenk through a session focused on making pottery pitch pots which have been used ornamentally and functionally (e.g. for food consumption) in South Africa across the ages.

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Sparking environmental interest and knowledge – the programme’s overall impact

It can be difficult to know what impact exposure to agricultural training can have on teenagers over a few interactions over 4 months. To measure the impact, short surveys were conducted with participants for the residency program, the CV/Career workshop and the field trips to monitor their interest, knowledge and skills before and after the programme was completed. The results after completion of the programme were inspiring and are outlined below:

  • A 58% increase in the level of knowledge of organic farming and the most important crops in South Africa
  • 74% of young participants felt they knew how to grow vegetables, make marmalade and grow their own worm farm after the residential programme
  • A 10% increase in those who wanted to pursue studies or career in agriculture
  • 75% of participants who wanted to pursue studies or a career in agriculture
  • A 5-fold increase in those that answered yes to having a CV with only 10% of participants indicating that they have a CV at the start of the CV/Career workshop
  • Double the number of participants who knew any government programs that supports young women in agriculture after the CV/Career workshop
  • 67% increase in those very interested in a career in hospitality related to agriculture (e.g. working at a wine farm, being a chef, running a guest farm)
  • 7% of respondents indicated that they knew exactly how to breed free range chickens at the start of the Spier Field trip, with the response rising to 43% after

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Participants were also asked to provide qualitative feedback on their experiences. Some of the participant comments are outlined below:

  • “My favourite experience was when we go and meet the chickens”
  • “I learnt things that I did not know about. They showed me a different world about our nature”
  • “My favourite experience was learning a new skill  and learning about the agriculture sector”

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The Sustainability Institute and Elsenberg (Department of Agriculture training college) will keep in touch with participant communities and offer further opportunities to enhance their newly-developed interest and skills in farming and agriculture. At any time the participants will be able to come to the Sustainability Institute’s Youth Hub to access computers, internet, and chat to the agri-entrepreneurs and Youth Hub community coordinators who will continue to offer mentoring opportunities to encourage these young women to build fruitful careers of their own in farming, and help secure the sustainable future of the land that surrounds them.

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For further information please contact:

Rosie Downey -Lead Facilitator | Sustainability Institute

Inka Schomer – Task Team Leader | World Bank

Sarah Diouri – Task Team Leader | World Bank