AgroEcology Academy

Developing and equipping young farmers 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 – which started in 2017 – that forms part of an integrated research and policy advocacy programme led by Stellenbosch University and the Sustainability Institute aimed at addressing these issues. At this stage, no new enrollments will be accepted.

Curriculum Outline (2017 – 2020)

The full four-year programme curriculum consist out of obtaining a NQF Level 1 qualification in Mixed Farming Systems in year one, followed by obtaining a NQF Level 4 qualification in Plant Production in year two. During the third year, young farmers were placed on farms as part of their internship year and were mentored by the farm owners and co-workers. In the final year, students will be allocated land and work independently or in small, self-selected teams to develop their own micro-enterprises within a business incubator environment.

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.


Value-added components

  • 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 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

The team


Vanessa von der Heyde

Vanessa von der Heyde did her MPhil through the SI in 2013 and was so inspired by this life-changing journey that she graduated with a burning desire to not only be a changemaker herself but also enable others to be changemakers in working towards a more equitable, inclusive and resilient world.

Upon graduating, Vanessa established a non-profit organization with the aim of continuing the food waste project she had started in Enkanini during her MPhil research. This led her to explore the concept of Social Entrepreneurship and she completed the Social Entrepreneurship Certificate Programme at GIBS in 2014. She is now responsible for the successful execution of the academic programmes on the Institute’s behalf, the co-ordination of all the non-academic elements around the programme, and managing the interdependencies between this programme and other programmes at the Institute. The primary objective is to create a world-class learning experience for the students in the programme, and maximising the value for all stakeholders of this programme.

A video providing an overview of the programme