Kaap Agri Academy supercharging the skills of a new generation of commercial farmers
Posted on: 26 May 2021
When a specialised agricultural training centre for previously disadvantaged farmers was established in the Western Cape in 2009, the dire need was evident judged by the overwhelming welcome it received from the industry. Since then, the Kaap Agri Academy has produced a veritable army of upskilled graduates, some of whom have netted lucrative supply contracts with some of South Africa’s biggest retailers, and others who have made the grade as exporters.
The Academy’s focus is on contributing to empowerment and the transformation of South African agriculture.
“The Kaap Agri Academy is our flagship social responsibility programme celebrating its 13th year of empowering new generation farmers and farmworkers. Kaap Agri is a key player in the agricultural sector and our main focus for community upliftment is education. Therefore, the Academy’s strategic approach is aligned to our core business,” says Barend Sulvester, Kaap Agri’s Transformation Manager, who oversees the operations of the Academy. Operating from Porterville, the Academy provides training in two AgriSETA accredited programmes.
The farmer development programme is designed to provide new generation farmers with the theoretical, practical and managerial knowledge to enable them to eventually become successful commercial farmers. The farmworker training programme equips farmworkers with essential skills, such as orchard monitoring or operating a digger-loader. The training schedule and course content are regularly adapted to suit industry needs.
To date, the Academy has trained more than 6,630 farmworkers while the farmer development programme, which now offers a National Certificate (NQF 4), has had 378 graduates.
“The hardest part of the job is having to turn down applicants,” says Barend. “On the flipside, the best and most satisfying part, is seeing the students who’ve worked hard, receiving recognition for their efforts at graduation.”
Annually, some 60 applicants are selected for the farmer development programme which is completely funded by Kaap Agri. Students can enrol in either the Animal Production Programme or the Plant Production Programme. Both courses are national certificate programmes graded at NQF4 level. The students undergo coursework with the focus on commercial farm management, sustainable farm practice, livestock and crop cultivation. Training is provided by skilled course facilitators who specialise in agricultural training.
Since 2010 the Kaap Agri Academy also offers training to farmworkers due to the lack of skills development programmes in this area. These are highly practical short courses presented at Kaap Agri branches and client premises as required. The training service also presents added value to Kaap Agri customers and producers who can support their staff’s skills development whilst funding it via their Kaap Agri account.
The farmer development programme traditionally required that applicants reside in either the Western or Northern Cape and have access to land. New virtual learning opportunities now allows the training centre to reconsider future intake requirements. “Since the advent of the pandemic, the teaching format has been amended to include a blended approach that makes greater use of online contact and reduces the time students are required to be on site,” says Barend. These adjustments will likely be adopted for the future.
“The Academy is one of our flagship projects and it’s our contribution towards equipping new generation farmers with the skills and knowledge to become sustainable commercial farmers. During these uncertain times, the Academy has pivoted and introduced online classes for the first time, with great success!” says Satish Bhoola, Kaap Agri’s Senior Manager: Sustainability & Legal, who manages the company’s corporate social investments. “Based on the success of the online learning programme, we have no doubt that this is the manner in which the Academy will prosper and offer more programmes to a wider group of farmers across the country in the future.”
The investment in the Academy amounted to over R900,000 in 2020. But it’s not just about the monetary investment. Barend points out the value of new relationships formed among students – something that often lasts long after the end of class.
Kaap Agri’s expanded network also allows students’ specific needs to be addressed by the most appropriate experts. As part of their practical training, students learn best practice by visiting leading farms as well as experimental farms. In addition, producers and suppliers are invited to share their practices and products with the students. There are numerous case studies of the Academy playing a role in the success of its graduates. Some of these success stories include Nazmi Davids who now supplies fresh vegetables to the Spar retail chain, Willie Job who won a contract with the Crown Food Group, and Wayne Mansfield who exports lemons with Stargrow Citrus.
Monitoring the careers of its graduates is one way the Academy measures the effectiveness of its programme. “We definitely keep an eye on how many students remain in agriculture and its related fields,” says Barend. “It’s wonderful to see students excel by becoming commercial producers. Some are beneficiaries in the Department of Land Reform’s land allocation programme. It’s great to be part of this transformative story.”