We’re ready, the system’s not: Youth perspectives on agricultural careers in South Africa
This research (PDF) in Agrekon was undertaken to better understand the paradox of young people turning away from agricultural employment in spite of such high levels of unemployment in the country. The research brings to light new evidence of youth perspectives on contemporary attitudes, experiences and expectations of work in the agricultural sector in South Africa. Findings show that attitudes towards careers in agriculture vary greatly. While a set of negative perceptions emerged from the narratives as anticipated, approximately one third of the respondents expressed a clear interest in and passion for agriculture. This interest persisted in spite of a range of pervasive social norms and stigmas. This raises the need to begin questioning the commonly accepted truth that youth are not interested in agriculture. From a youth perspective, the results suggest that the interests and expectations of youth are more than sufficient to warrant substantial investment into engaging them as active co-creators in the re-design of the food system based on the principles of accumulation from below. However, these positive aspirations tended to be at odds with the kinds of jobs created by an increasingly corporatised food regime, since currently 90% of jobs within the “advanced’ commercial agriculture sector comprise low-skilled minimum wage positions. Accordingly, if the agricultural sector remains a source of disappointment, uncertainty and humiliation for bright-eyed youth who attempt to engage in the sector, the turn away from the sector in the face of high unemployment is likely to continue. Given the scale of the youth crisis in South Africa and the need for a structural transition within the food system, failing to engage the passion and energy of today’s youth in this challenge would be a great loss and one which society can ill afford.