SACAU held its annual conference themed “Envisioning Future Farming Skills” from 24th to 25th May in Cape Town, South Africa. The conference was organised against the background that agriculture in general and, farming skills in particular, have become increasingly complex and demanding, thus pointing to the need for aligning skills, competencies and capabilities with the future of agriculture.
The conference was officially opened by Mr Michael Mlengana, the Director-General of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of the Republic of South Africa in the presence of 86 delegates from Farmers’ Organisations (FOs), young farmers, private sector, government, academia, cooperating partners and research institutions. Mr Mlengana indicated that extension workers have not been properly trained and emphasised the importance of addressing this situation. He also alluded to the importance of ethical leadership that does not take from those that it seeks to serve.
Various speakers presented on perspectives on the future of agriculture and farming; what is wrong with the current advisory services; the farmer of the future – what key areas of skills, capabilities and other competencies will be needed in the future; innovations and approaches for future farmers; competence innovation and delivery mechanism for innovations. These were discussed in panel and plenary discussions.
Some of the highlights of the presentations and discussions were that future agriculture will be characterised by complex systems that are data-driven, knowledge-intensive, highly modernised and long integrated value chains. It was also said that investments in energy, infrastructure, water and skills development will be key in driving agricultural transformation in the continent. This agricultural transformation will require a shift of focus from primary production to a value chain approach.
Concerns were raised about African farming structures not changing fast enough to trigger agricultural transformation – transformation is when the whole country changes, and should be engineered through internal resources.
It was stated that the educational process would need to change to meet the needs of a future agriculture. The need for exposure for future farmers to drive the agricultural transformation agenda was also stressed. This could be done through mentorships and exchanges within the country, region, continent and globally. For young farmers, in particular, mentorship and initiatives such as “each one reach one” could play a critical role. Technology will play an important role in skills development. Technology is advancing rapidly and it is up to the farmer to embrace it or get left behind.
The minimum investments by governments in the education of their populace was raised as an issue of concern, and it was observed that investments by the private sector in the provision of agricultural advisory services are increasing.
Key messages from the conference deliberations were developed and subsequently adopted by SACAU’s Annual General Meeting which was held immediately after the conference. These are around the involvement of FOs in reviewing and development of curricula; scaling up successful advisory/extension approaches or models; leveraging Information and Communications Technology in delivery of advisory services; supporting farmers to acquire knowledge; building a body of knowledge on professionalisation of farming; harnessing existing assets within FOs structures for capacity development; continued support to young agripreneurs, and organising farmers.