The Agribusiness Development Agency (ADA), in association with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) , Advisory, Food Security and Horticulture, Natal Midlands Development Programme, New Generation Youth Empowerment and the Department of Education, recently launched a project that will educate and empower agriculture students in underprivileged schools, with the tools and skills required to become leaders in the agricultural sector.

The On Our Own for Mandela Schools Gardening Project” aims to promote agriculture in schools, create agribusiness growth, make a difference to agriculture students and change the negative perceptions surrounding the careers in the agricultural sector.

The objective is to attract youth into becoming role players in the agribusiness sector, create an enabling environment for youth to participate in the agribusiness sector at an early age and position agricultural activities as a solution toward food security.

The project has been implemented in six schools under the uMgungundlovu District Municipality that offer agricultural studies as a subject and have displayed enthusiasm towards maintaining gardens. The chosen schools were those that faced challenges that prevent them from having well maintained gardens — such as a lack of technical support, insufficient equipment, lack of inputs, fencing and proper irrigation, and limited access to career information.

Emzamweni High School, Siyanda High School, Phayiphini High School, Nyonithwele High School, Makholwa High School and Willowfontein High School were selected and provided with the tools and education needed to grow their gardens.

Principal of the Emzamweni High School, Nhlanhla Ngubane said: “We started a green campaign about four years ago but were limited due to a lack of finances. ADA and the associated organisations came to the school with a view to turn this around. They asked us what we need and have provided it for our agriculture students.”

The project entailed site inspection, identification of the schools’ requirements, mapping of gardens and allocation of crops, soil sampling, land preparation, purchasing of equipment and inputs, and delivery and planting of seedlings.

Continuous cultivation and watering will be done by students to ensure consistent harvesting.

In addition to supplying all tools and equipment that the schools require for their gardens, ADA has also provided fencing to some of the schools. Gardens were designed for students to maintain, however Dard and ADA will visit regularly to monitor and assist students.

Michelle Cassim of Dard horticulture said: “We will continue the programme on a monthly basis for weeding and spray management, irrigation, and to show students how to plant different crops during different seasons.”

The idea is to support schools in developing their vegetable gardens, share information on career opportunities available in the agricultural and agribusiness sector and this will culminate to a gardening competition amongst the participating schools.

Mpume Mpanza, from the Marketing and Communication Unit said, “The aim is to break stereotypes surrounding agriculture as a career. Emphasis is placed on students to take the project seriously and make it their own, in honour of Mandela. They need to do this for themselves and the province.

“We encourage entrepreneurship at school level so that students may sell crops that they grow to generate income for their schools. After all, agriculture is the economic driver in the country,” Mpanza added.