Developing programmes that support young farmers and equip them with the skills to tackle issues of food insecurity, land reform and youth unemployment.
Being the first of its kind in South Africa, the Agroecology Academy supports and work with young farmers to counter the compounding humanitarian challenges of increasingly high youth unemployment, nutritional insecurity and the need to accelerate social justice around land reform through a combination of formal qualifications, short course training and extended periods of hands-on learning.
At present, the Academy offers a nationally accredited four-year youth development programme in sustainable food systems that forms part of an integrated research and policy advocacy programme led by the Stellenbosch University and the Sustainability Institute aimed at addressing these issues.
The brief outline of the full four-year programme curriculum is as follows:
1. NQF Level 1 Qualification in Mixed Farming Systems
This is the foundation year of the programme during which students have the option to move to the Sustainability Institute’s residential campus. Before embarking on their production and business training, students are introduced to the broader concepts of sustainable development and orientated within the wider Stellenbosch region. Each student’s time is split 50/50 between the classroom and practical work in the Sustainability Institute’s food gardens and with Eric Swart’s farm, situated within walking distance from Lynedoch. As students start producing crops, they are expected to begin developing their marketing channels for sale and distribution as well.
2. Learnership Year
After learning the basics and now beginning to think of themselves as micro-entrepreneurs, learners begin working on local farms, with local farmers who mentor them through their first apprenticeship year. During this year learners have the opportunity to work under an experienced farmer, as well as to begin growing crops for their own clients in their own free time on allocated land allotments.
3. NQF Level 4 Qualification in Plant Production
Learners continue to live at Lynedoch Eco-Village and over a 12 month cycle, students spend 30% of their time in the classroom and 70% on the farm in order to develop a well-rounded individual who has experience as their main teacher. During this time, students begin to farm more autonomously, supported by continued tuition in farming and business management skills. During their third year, students have the opportunity to take on a larger section of land to manage for their own profit. They are also guided to begin exercising leadership through mentorship of younger students. At the end of the third year, those wishing to seek employment in established businesses are supported to do so, while those interested in building their own businesses or seeking assistance progress on to the fourth and final year.
4. Business incubator and/or internship
In the final year, students are allocated land and work independently or in small, self-selected teams to develop their own micro-enterprises within a business incubator environment. Students are supported through the provision of strategically located farm land for temporary use, agricultural extension support and business coaching are provided. Learners are in control of their own farms and are expected to take full responsibility for their business decisions. Students not wishing to begin experimenting their own enterprises will be supported into internships or work placements. At the end of this final year, learners have three options: continue on the path of an agro-entrepreneur with supported access to land, use their improved CV to apply for salaried employment or continue on to higher levels of tertiary education.
Importantly, the learning process of the four-year qualification is modulated and therefore allows students to enter with the option to exit at the end of each year with a nationally recognised qualification.
- Students undergo an integrated learning process where their technical skills develop symbiotically with their understanding of small business management and agriculture
- Young farmers gain important work experience on organic farms while beginning to understand the challenges of managing their own planting schedule over a full year while also managing real clients
- Students are guided to begin exercising leadership through mentorship of younger students
- Students are provided an important opportunity to gain practical work experience by exploring a particular area of interest for their future farming careers
- Agro-entrepreneurs are provided a safe-to-fail space for developing their own businesses