Reaping what we sow: Unlocking opportunities for youth in agribusiness

Mandla Mpofu is the managing director of Omnia Agriculture and the newly-appointed deputy chair of the Agbiz Congress 2024. Photo: Supplied

Mandla Mpofu is the managing director of Omnia Agriculture and the newly-appointed deputy chair of the Agbiz Congress 2024. Photo: Supplied

Published Jun 24, 2024


By Mandla Mpofu

In the past, the agricultural sector may have been accused of not proactively positioning itself as “youth-friendly”, failing to present accessible and rewarding career opportunities for most young people.

However, this is now changing as opportunities within the sector emerge, driven by the advent of new technology.

The Agbiz Congress 2024 took place recently in Sun City. The congress brought together agribusiness industry leaders, stakeholders and role-players across the length and breadth of the agricultural value chain, with the topics of discussion converging on a central theme: How the local agricultural sector can earn its place alongside leading competitors in the global arena.

Key to realising this goal is inspiring young agripreneurs and innovators to step up and shape the industry of the future.

The youth tend to associate a career in agriculture with being a farmer. Farmers are integral and important to agriculture, but farming is not easily accessible to every South African. If there is an opportunity to get into farming for the youth, that is great.

However, it is not always an easy career path, given that it tends to be a “generational” career, where farmers often pass their land, businesses and knowledge down to their children, who then pick up the baton.

What the youth need to realise – and what we as key industry players need to convey – is that there is now a multitude of opportunities available within modern-day agriculture.

Thus, we need to make the all-important mindset shift from agriculture to agribusiness – and everything that comes with it.

Young people may not be interested in becoming farmers, but they may very well be eager to become agriconomists or even agripreneurs who can service the industry using game-changing technology.

In an age where technology will become the greatest equaliser between the developing and developed worlds, we have an unprecedented chance to shift this narrative. Let us rather see farmers as innovators, who have the technological tools and know-how to build a more future-fit, resilient sector.

New horizons for agripreneurs

Landmark developments in precision farming, automated steering systems and advanced telematics for monitoring and optimising farm operations will play a pivotal role in the evolution of agriculture. These technological milestones have intersected with a greater focus on sustainability, as the world gears up to mitigate the effects of climate change.

With environmental, social and governance objectives now being key considerations in how agribusinesses conduct their operations, the sector also holds bright prospects in terms of much-needed employment opportunities and social upliftment. Developments in agriculture impact lives and livelihoods, ultimately touching us all.

This “futuristic lens” on the potential of the sector is why bringing more young people into agriculture is so important.

It’s more than just farming. It’s about all the changes we’re seeing along the entire value chain – exciting, new challenges in robotics, satellite imaging, drone technology and engineering.

Sowing the seeds of success

Investing in the youth is one of Omnia Agriculture’s key impact areas. The group is currently a core sponsor of initiatives such as the Boereplanne Farmer Innovation Competition, hosted at Nampo – one of the largest agricultural exhibitions in the southern hemisphere.

The competition welcomes engineering students, agronomists and economists to enter their ideas or inventions for agricultural solutions, to stand a chance of winning a significant cash prize, potential funding, scholarships and other career-enhancing opportunities.

Omnia Agriculture also runs a graduate internship programme, which provides recent graduates with an introduction to agribusiness across various disciplines, including mechanical engineering, analytical chemistry, supply chain and mining engineering. Through initiatives such as these, the group aims to create a sustainable pipeline of talent who can fill critical roles within the organisation and the industry at large.

Our goal as an industry leader is to find young people who have both the potential and the desire to make an impact and help drive positive change within agriculture. Through our outreach initiatives, we hope to provide young people with the education, training and resources to reignite their interest in the sector and help them build thriving careers.

Mandla Mpofu is the managing director of Omnia Agriculture and the newly-appointed Deputy Chair of the Agbiz Congress 2024.