As many young graduates know, graduating does not guarantee a job or an income. Finding work can be very difficult with most employees seeking experienced candidates. Most graduates lack the practical experience to start farming or to apply for positions in an agricultural field.
During 2017 a selected group of graduates were the first interns to participate in Grain SA Internship Programme which began last season. This programme is a joint partnership between Grain SA and the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR).
The benefit of this programme is twofold as Grain SA Farmer Development is given the opportunity to train the calibre of mentors that is needed in the field for future farmer development in the deep rural areas. On the other hand, interns can obtain much needed experience in the field, better equipping them for their future careers. The main criteria to join the programme is that participants must be graduates who have completed their studies in an agricultural field.
During the internship participants must attend a variety of Grain SA farmer training courses in grain production. These courses have a good balance between theory and the practical application thereof and form an integral part of the internship. Other learning opportunities and skills development activities are acquired during the Grain SA social facilitation tasks, which include study group meetings, farmers days and advanced farmer encounters. They also accompany a mentor to experience first-hand what is done in the field to improve the agricultural practices of the mentees.
After completing the year-long internship a written exam is completed to evaluate their practical and theoretical knowledge. The seven candidates in the 2017 Kokstad group who had all experienced the frustration of not being able to land a job with little to no practical experience in the field after completing their studies, all passed and are now junior mentors in the field.
A learner becomes teacher
Portia Buso (26) from Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape is one of the graduates who went from intern to junior mentor. ‘In the rural areas where I grew up, we depended on crop production to put food on the table,’ she says. This is where her interest in agriculture developed, helping her mother from a young age to plant maize, potatoes and other vegetables.
The significance of seeing something grow from a seed to food on the table prompted her to choose agriculture as a career. She first obtained a National Diploma: Community Extension at the Mangosuthu University of Technology and then furthered her studies at the Tshwane University of Pretoria. Here she received a BTech Degree in Agriculture: Extension and Rural Development. Her studies concentrated on developing farmers and improving agricultural practices in rural areas through crop production.
To her the highlight of the internship was receiving hands-on experience in the mechanisation field. She shares that learning to calibrate planters and boom sprayers and even do maintenance on farm equipment was a true adventure. ‘This was really valuable experience because you can’t teach what you can’t do!’ Other areas in the programme included mapping of land using GPS and doing crop yield estimates.
Although Portia comes from a farming background, she was amazed to discover during the internship that a high yield could be accomplished on a small piece of land by just following procedures and applying the correct agricultural practices. ‘I also realised that farmers are very sensitive people and that one must be aware of this when you share advice so as not to offend them.’
Michelle Obama, wife of the previous American president, said, ‘Empower yourself with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country…’ Portia is empowered by a good education and skills through the internship programme. Now she is using it to build a strong farming community working as a junior mentor in the Pabankulu area, mentoring about 60 farmers to help improve their agricultural practices to realise their dreams.
One of the groups under her supervision is familiar to her as they were part of her mentor’s mentees during the internship, the other is a brand-new group showing that Grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme is still growing. When asked how these experienced farmers feel about a young elegant lady teaching them about farming, she laughs. ‘The new group has truly accepted me as their mentor and take the advice I share on board. The group who got to know me as intern, saw that I am interested in their success and are very positive towards my input,’ she shares.
It has become clear that the importance of soil analysis is the one area where farmers need the most guidance and when they witness the results of correct soil management, they want even more information. She is planning to place more emphasis on marketing too. ‘Marketing maize is very important if you want to make a living. If farmers do not sell their maize, it goes to waste as their storage facilities are not up to par or none existent.
Record-keeping and log book maintenance also forms part of the responsibility of the junior interns. Portia says she used to believe that she was the kind of person who only enjoys office work and doing administrative tasks at a desk. Through this programme she has discovered something she never knew about herself, that she is a teacher at heart.
This article originally appeared in Pula/Imvula November 2018 which can be accessed here