Population growth, climate change and the fourth industrial revolution(4IR) all present entrepreneurship opportunities in the agricultural sector, Mr Ntokozo Sibiya, Chairperson of Lesedi Agri Biz Incubator, told students at the University of Venda in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, last week.

He was speaking at last week’s national launch of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme’s Student Entrepreneurship Week 2022 (SEW 2022).

Lesedi Agri Biz Incubator recruits high-potential agripreneurs between the ages of 18 and 35. It supplies them with resources including land, seeds and implements and supports them in building agricultural businesses that can compete commercially and endure. Mr Sibiya says by doing all of the above, he has witnessed the potential in student entrepreneurs to create impactful, sustainable and scalable businesses.

To commence with, Sibiya (left) reminded UNIVEN students of their immediate surrounds and the privilege they have, located in that expansive agricultural land. While expressing delight at witnessing the interventions being undertaken by universities to solve South Africa’s scourge of unemployment, he said none of what he was seeing was enough.

“Whose responsibility is it to create jobs for young people, or to create an enabling entrepreneurial environment for young people to thrive?” he asked.

“The answer to these questions lies within the walls of higher education institutions which, in my view, have a responsibility to equip students with professional and trade skills, and to deliberately instil an entrepreneurial mindset that will impress upon students, that they can create their own livelihoods.”

Ideas to explore in agripreneurship

He reiterated that population growth, climate change and the 4IR give the African continent great advantage to advance agricultural innovations, creating platforms for agripreneurs to thrive.

With reference to statistics published by Ventures Africa, stating that population growth could double in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050, Sibiya said by merely seeking to meet population demands, the continent has ample opportunity to thrive and prosper.

“It is clear that to win the battle against food insecurity, we need to make good use of the opportunities available to produce more food for the continent,” he said, assuring entrepreneurs that the food supply market is projected to grow.

In the context of climate change he mentioned frequent and intense droughts, heatwaves, fierce storms causing floods, and rising sea levels. “We have all seen the devastating effects of climate change, more specifically the African continent,” he said. “Where the ordinary man sees a decline in their quality of life, an entrepreneur sees opportunity. A student’s entrepreneurial mindset should ignite innovative ideas to thrive in times like these,” he said.

One innovative strategy would be to adopt the globally accepted and sustainable farming model of regenerative agriculture, that seeks to rehabilitate degraded arable land in Africa, that is negatively affecting over 650 million people. He said big successes have been achieved from restoring depleted soils through this technique, which includes crop rotation and mulching.

Soil-less farming is being proven viable

Sibiya also spoke of indoor vertical farming. “With arable land rapidly disappearing on the continent, we need to be open to exploring farming methodologies not bound by accessibility to land,” he said, adding that there is no reason why land scarcity should hinder agripreneurs’ progress.

Among several alternative methodologies available, Mr Sibiya mentioned producing food through soil-less farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. He said these strategies were ideal for producing healthy crops, advancing food security, and meeting the growing urbanisation challenges in times of climate change.

Lastly, he addressed opportunities that 4IR continues to present.

“The changing world has been highly influenced by technological advancements and improved efficiency, not only in our daily lives but also in crucial industries that include agriculture,” he said. In this regard, Mr Sibiya alerted students to “out of the box” ideas, citing aerial imagery in the agricultural sector as one example but emphasising that this is more than just about flying drones. He said entrepreneurs in this space can enable farmers to analyse and interpret image data to help them manage their farms effectively. Moreover, he said drones with specialised senses can alert farmers to changes concerning the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) which provides farmers information about water pressure, pest infestations, plant diseases and nutrient deficiencies which can affect productivity.

He also assured students that agricultural technology-based enterprises do not always require a qualification in agriculture. “Engineering students can also investigate designing and developing agricultural robots to minimise the impact of harmful chemicals on humans,” he said.

In conclusion, Sibiya said the whole intention of his presentation was to draw students’ minds to opportunities with potential to solve problems while building more sustainable and scalable agricultural businesses.

Succeeding in the agricultural sector

Mr Sibiya was sharing a platform with two budding entrepreneurs within the agricultural sector, who narrated their stories at the #SEW2022 national launch.

The first of these individuals said his entrepreneurial pursuit was driven by a desire to help his sickly grandmother. That was how Mr Vhutshilo Netshiongolwe (left), a qualified Aircraft Turner Machinist, founded Mukapuza, a start-up business producing an organic plant-based indigenous breakfast cereal and manufacturing convenience foods.

It all started during a visit back home during a work break, when seeing his grandmother teetering through lunch left him devastated. Although his grandmother had already reached her 90s, he knew that this problem had nothing with old age, but rather, complications of Type 2 diabetes.  Seven months later, Netshiongolwe resigned from his job and started exploring a solution to his grandmother’s condition. Her chronic medication had proven insufficient.

Coming from Venda, a region richly bestowed in indigenous edible vegetation, he did not have far to look. After 12 months of research, he started experimenting with sweet potatoes – leading him to create a breakfast cereal. He and his team proceeded to manufacturing oil from macadamia nuts. After indulging in these products, her grandmother’s condition improved significantly.

Netshiongolwe says the arrival of CoViD-19 woke him and his team to the scarcity of healthy food for people in rural areas. This created an added opportunity to produce highly nutritious food products at affordable prices. In less than two years since they started, he says they have experienced tremendous growth.

Entrepreneurship is the future

The other individual was Ms Corney Phenduka (left), a Bachelor of Commerce in Economics student at the University of Venda and founder of 3gs, a company that produces and distributes eggs. She dubbed herself “a success story of Univen.”

For Ms Phenduka, the piloting of Student Training for Entrepreneurial Promotion (STEP) at the university was her turning point. This programme nudged her towards selling fruit on campus, a venture which made her a lot of money and kindled a general business interest in her.  She commended her lecturers, whom she labelled the backbone of her entrepreneurial journey. “I went as far as registering my business, and it’s been over a year now,” she said.

Phenduka admits, however, that it has not all been smooth sailing; but her vision for the enterprise has kept her going. With this wisdom she urged studentpreneurs to optimise use of entrepreneurship programmes within their institutions’ reach, such as EDHE, ENACTUS and STEP, which, she said, have been instrumental in her growth.

“As long as you are determined, you can be distinct in anything that you do. Entrepreneurship is the future,” she concluded.

With the national launch event now completed, universities are expected to go on to host their individual #SEW2022 events for what remains of August until 30 September 2022.

Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.

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