Female and rural farmers focus of agro-processing conference

Insight into the training offered to emerging farmers at Buhle Farmers’ Academy, as well as the potential of indigenous crops to bring food security to African farmers were hot topics at the Agro-Processing Africa Conference.

rural farmers zamo shongwe
Zamo Shongwe of the non-governmental organisation Buhle Farmers’ Academy is a speaker at the Agro-Processing Africa Conference on 29 and 30 November 2016 in Centurion. (Image: Melissa Javan)

Melissa Javan

The story of the success of the Buhle Farmers’ Academy was told on the first day of the Agro-Processing Africa Conference held at Irene Farm in Centurion, Gauteng.

Delegates heard how the academy grew from training 50 students in 2000 to 500 a year by 2016. These students were trained to manage their own farming businesses.

Discussions at the conference, which took place on 29 and 30 November, explored various initiatives relating to agro-processing on the continent. It also examined the challenges in the sector. One of the topics was “The benefits of capacity building in African agriculture”. It was said that more women should be business owners or in managerial positions, because women paid great attention to detail.

rural farmers maureen bandama
Business strategist Maureen Bandama says women should not only be labourers in the agro-processing sector, but business owners and in managerial positions. (Image: Melissa Javan)

Maureen Bandama, a business strategist, was the first speaker. She spoke about agro-processing, saying it was not only about processed foods, but about everything you saw around you.

For example, a shop owner decides on the number of T-shirts he wants to order for the year. He then has to talk to the seamstress and clothing designer about his T-shirts. The person who creates the materials for the seamstress to use is also involved in this process.

In addition, Bandama spoke about the importance of empowering women in farming.

Buhle Farmers’ Academy

Since 2000, the Buhle Farmers’ Academy has trained more than 4 000 emerging farmers. The academy’s Zamo Shongwe said that the board agreed to take in 50 people in 2000. “We didn’t have a Farmers’ Support Office then. This meant that after the courses were done, the graduates could not have the support of farmers in the field nor adjust their business plans.

“A lot of them also didn’t understand why certain things were done,” she explained.

“Nine years ago we implemented the Farmers’ Support Office. Now if the graduates go home and their community gives reasons to change things, they come back to us to talk about that and there is provision for them to adjust their business plan.”

The office lends support to graduates following their courses, and they can return there to ask for help.

rural farmers buhle farmers academy
The Buhle Farmers’ Academy takes in 500 emerging farmers a year to learn about farming of crops and livestock such as vegetables, maize and poultry. (Image to illustrate: Brand South Africa)

Buhle had built partnerships with a number of farmers in the vicinity of its campuses, said Shongwe. Through these, students were able to practise their theory by training on these farms.

Those who planned to go into poultry farming, for example, had to check up on baby chickens. “You have to check up on baby chickens every two hours, because they are very fragile. They can die of things like suffocation if some of them get on top of each other. There must always be light where they are, so the student learns about making use of solar energy.”

Only 500 students are selected for the academy each year. Each student must at least have a Grade 9 school qualification. Each student must also have access to land, even if they don’t own the land.

Studies are done on scholarship. Many corporates and individuals pay for a student to take up a course at Buhle. “We then ask the donor if they can sponsor more than one student,” said Shongwe. Buhle also gets funding.

Of the academy’s female graduates she said: “Women go back to their communities and share the information they have learned. Many of the men tend to keep the information for themselves.”

Using indigenous crops for food security

Adeoluwa Adetunjo, of the agricultural services and food processing company AFGRI, spoke about indigenous crops used by Africans. Food insecurity could be solved if we made use of this produce, he said.

The topic of Adetunjo’s talk was “Unlocking potentials of Africa’s indigenous food crops”. He focused on cassava, a crop grown in his home country of Nigeria. It is produced in 24 of the country’s 36 states.

Besides processing cassava to create food products, the crop’s peel could be used for feeding animals.

Adetunjo explained that the peels were grated three times before being processed. They were turned into a flour-like mixture for certain farm animals.

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