Dimakatso (Nono) Sekhoto is rapidly emerging as a champion of young people in agriculture in her native South Africa. At 35, she is already managing director of a commercial farming business producing beef, apples and sunflowers, as well as co-founder of an enterprise to promote youth employment in agriculture and a member of the National Executive Council of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (AFASA). At the 48th Brussels Briefing, organised by CTA and partners on March 20, she explained her plans to build stronger links between rural farmers and urban markets.
You have a background in finance. What was it that attracted you to working in the agriculture sector?
I felt a little bored in the finance sector after working in it for seven years. My father had bought a farm in 2008, and he asked me to help him with the finances. It was definitely not planned for me to work in the agriculture sector, but in 2011 I agreed, and I took a leap of faith. It was very much a learning experience, and I spent a lot of time with the workers to try and understand the business, which I found fascinating.
How did your interest in a farming develop from there?
I still work for the family farm, but over the years, I had become increasingly interested in youth development. I joined network groups and then AFASA, and from there I began to understand a lot about the dynamics of the farming sector as a whole, and young people in particular, and I decided I would like to focus on this area. So with a friend of mine I set up a company called GrowthShoot. This was partly because I realised I had got into agriculture by mistake, and when I started to see all the opportunities it offered, it dawned on me that not a lot of work was being done to encourage youth into agriculture, or to facilitate their experiences in the sector.
What is the main message that you made at the Brussels Briefing?
I made two key messages. First, that we need new ways of enticing youth to stay in rural areas and be productive. There is this impression that people will get jobs if they move to the towns, but we have seen that this is not the case. The other point I want to make is the potential for linking urban markets with production in rural areas. Farmers may not have the market right here, but they don’t have to go physically to urban areas to access markets. They can do it from where they are, if they have the right support.
In your view, how important is it to forge links between rural farmers and urban markets?
Links between the rural areas and towns can do much to develop agribusiness and generate employment. The opportunities are there. The problem is that if you are on your own, and you don’t have the information, it’s not so easy to tap into these openings, and that’s the gap that we have identified. For example, one thing that is working in our favour in South Africa is the existence of economic empowerment policies that have been put in place. These enforce the law, in the case of agriculture, for big businesses to work with smallholder farmers. That opens up a whole range of channels for small-scale farmers to be able to participate in urban markets. But it’s hard to access these if you are on your own, and you don’t know how.
How does your enterprise work?
GrowthShoot aims to empower youth in agriculture by providing them with access to agribusiness opportunities. We do that by collaborating with organised stakeholders for a specific commodity, and then we build a full ecosystem that will offer access to training, marketing, finance and mentorship – providing the whole spectrum of support for young farmers. To give an example of our first project, we are setting up a rabbit farming enterprise, and we have a facility of about 800 rabbits. We are employing young graduates here, and identifying young farmers to set up other small satellite production units. We will all work together in a cooperative model, with GrowthShoot handling the sales. The benefit is that it offers support for young farmers, shares the input costs, and supplies to a single buyer through one contract.
Many of your activities have made you an ambassador for young people in agriculture. Why is targeting this sector of the population so important?
We all know that there is going to be a huge population growth over the next couple of decades, so agriculture will be central to addressing this. In South Africa, the agriculture sector is far better developed then on the rest of the continent, but the population that controls farming has become a lot older. We’re looking at an average age of between 55 and 65 of commercial farmers who feed our country. So it’s extremely important to introduce the younger generation into this area. Those young people currently working in agriculture are not well supported, so my aim is to demonstrate that there are many more opportunities then people think in agriculture, and I am the living example. There are a great many on-farm and off-farm openings, and it is important to show that to youth.
To what extent is there a need to empower women in agribusiness, and how are you helping to achieve this?
If we look at rural areas in this country, the majority of people are women. That’s because over the years, the men have travelled to urban areas to find jobs. Women have begun to realise that they need to find ways to support themselves, or to add to the little money they receive from the men. That’s why agriculture is so important here.
Find out more