■ Emerging farmer Dawn Ehrenreich levels the mulch in the garden.

JOHANNESBURG - The Agriculture industry is in dire need of qualified educators as the quality and number of teachers who are trained to teach agriculture at school level leaves much to be desired.

This is among the findings of a report by the Academy of Science of South Africa released yesterday (Tuesday) and titled, “Revitalising Agricultural Education and Training in South Africa", which calls for transformation of the back-breaking industry, which helped the country climb out of technical recession in the second quarter.
Professor Jonathan Jansen, president of the academy, said the report was developed by an 11-member study panel of experts under Professor Frans Swanepoel’s leadership and was peer-reviewed by three experts.

The report stated that the country’s agricultural education and training (AET) system was in “dire need” of qualified educators as the quality of those trained to teach the subject “is of serious concern”.

“It will become increasingly impossible to appropriately train adequate numbers of students without addressing the need to replenish and build the cadre of agricultural educators. The need for an increase in qualified educators is not limited to any one specific component of the AET system; rather the needs for improved skills are critical across the board from school level to PhD level,” the report said.

It also bemoaned the fact that agriculture was not a career of first choice for many, saying this created challenges for effective sourcing of “high-quality students for post-school studies”.

A lack of funding for practical agricultural training and poor linkages in the research area were some  of the study’s key findings.
It was recommended that training the trainers be treated as an important priority in sustaining a strong AET system, and that there be greater cooperation between the Agricultural Research Council and the National Research Foundation as both organisations had a similar vision and mission. 

The report said current information was fundamental to understanding the contribution of agricultural innovation systems to agricultural growth.  

“Indicators derived from such information allow the performance, inputs, and outcomes of agricultural innovation systems to be measured, monitored, and benchmarked,” it said, adding such data constituted a powerful resource for research managers, policy makers, donor organisations, and other stakeholders. 

“In South Africa, there is an urgent need for the development of responsive informational and monitoring data on the AET system.”
Jansen said the recommendations were practical, adding: “It is hoped that they will be used to influence policymakers and thereby result in an improvement in the quality of AET in South Africa.”
Agricultural industry association AgriSA said agriculture was a highly scientific, technological and commercialised venture. 

AgriSA deputy executive director Christo van der Rheede told Business Report yesterday (Tuesday) that top agriculture specialists were needed to teach young people the science of agriculture, the technology and its economics.

“If you do not have those specialists then you are going to end up with people that do not have specialised knowledge and they will find it very difficult to cope and survive in this industry,” he said.

Van der Rheede called on the government to apply political will to transform the industry, saying: “We will not see the transformation we want to see unless they do an investigation into the future of our agricultural colleges and check whether the teachers they have appointed there have the special types of skills I’m talking about.” 

He said people should stop “romanticising farming” and debunk myths that “if you give someone a piece of land then everything will fall into place”.

- BUSINESS REPORT