A commercial grower training programme to shore up the ever widening skills gap in South Africa’s macadamia industry has successfully completed its first year, with a second group of youngsters signed up and busy learning how to manage the country’s orchards.
A training programme set up by seasoned Lowveld macadamia farmers Guy More, Duncan Macgregor and Kasper van Rooyen has been met with enthusiasm by the region’s farmers, who snapped up the first four recruits as soon as they graduated towards the end of last year.
Macgregor, who farms at Lochaber Estates in South Africa’s Lowveld, said as co-founder of Recruitagri, he was not only delighted with the project’s progress since it started in May last year, but also with the calibre of the first batch of students.
“We’d like to see steady growth in the number of graduates we turn out, without in any way compromising on the quality of the training. We are also keen to involve other interested farmers and agricultural organisations in Recruitagri. It will help us broaden the internship experience we can give our trainees and assist in covering the costs,” Macgregor said.
The vision, he added, was to develop an internship programme aimed at turning out quality graduates.
As a result, those applying to participate in the course require a degree or diploma from a recognised tertiary institution if they are to be accepted.
King Dlamini, who is now employed as an assistant farm manager on a 200ha property in the Barberton Valley, said he landed the job because of his interaction with agricultural experts and seasoned managers during the course.
“I keep learning every day, and I am so grateful for the solid platform that Recruitagri gave me,” he said.
Similarly, BSc graduate Ronnie Mamba, who always dreamed of a career in agriculture, said the year at Recruitagri had provided a “wonderful bridging year” for him.
Mamba is now employed as a junior farm manager on a nearby kiwi fruit and macadamia-producing operation.
This year six students were selected from more than 300 applications.
Jenny More, a BSc graduate with majors in psychology and genetics from Wits University, has taken on the task of managing the non-profit company established to drive Recruitagri.
She said she was not only thrilled to be heading up the initiative but reports received from the farmers who employed the first group of graduates had filled her with confidence.
“Their response shows us that we are on the right track and that we are meeting the great need for agricultural graduates,” she said.
While the course is yet to be accredited, More said the content was designed with a good balance of both theory and practical studies in mind.
Former farmer, agriculture expert and consultant Roy Porritt was commissioned by Recruitagri to develop the curriculum and to oversee the day-to-day teaching responsibilities.
The course includes the theory of managing soil types, irrigation, tree nutrition and diseases. The students get involved in fire protection, they learn how to drive a tractor, calibrate irrigation equipment, maintain machines and tools, and how to handle chemicals safely. Benchmarking protocol GlobalGap as well as safety, healthy, environment and quality or SHEQ are dealt with, along with the legal requirements of farming and responsible management of the environment.
More said apart from the theory of dealing with soils, water and irrigation, nutrition, pests and diseases, the interns were also taught the basic principles of economic systems, finance, sales, marketing, entrepreneurship, innovation and human resources management and motivation.
“Between the monthly lecture sessions, the interns work on a rotational basis with existing farm managers. They also participate in a structured report-back and discussion session, complete with written and oral tests,” she said.
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