PRETORIA: The Department of Agriculture's external comprehensive bursary scheme's annual budget of R12.5 million needs to be increased to give more financial support to the majority of young people and women.
"It is our plan that this budget of R12.5 million per annum must be increased to a minimum of R40million per annum because of the great need out there," said Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
She was addressing delegates at the African Farmer's Association's (AFASA) two-day Women and Youth National Planning Commission on Monday.
The programme aims to provide financial support to women and young people from previously disadvantaged communities who intend to acquire skills in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Annually deserving students with good matric results are recruited to be worthy recipients of the departmental external comprehensive bursary scheme.
The bursary has been made attractive to cover tuition, accommodation, books, meals and a monthly allowance.
According to the Minister, in the past five years, a total of 1 000 young people benefitted from the scheme with girl children constituting over 50 percent.
"Of this total, 420 successfully completed their university studies in various critical and scarce fields," she said.
Agriculture has been identified as one of the economic pillars of development in South Africa.
However, the Minister said there was compelling evidence of ageing farmer population in the country and these needed to be addressed to facilitate sustainability of agricultural production.
To achieve this, the Minister said there is a need for inclusive participation of youth and women in agriculture.
Currently she said young people are not fully participating in agriculture due to negative perceptions they have regarding the agricultural sector.
"Our youth perceive people participating in agriculture as being uneducated, unskilled, physical labour and low economic returns.
"However to ensure long term food security and sustainability of agriculture, youth is seen as ideal catalyst to change the poor image because of their greater propensity and willingness to adapt to new ideas, concepts and technology," she said.
Government has developed and implemented policies on gender equity all of which aim at ensuring that women and youth in particular are programmatically brought into the mainstream of the economy.
Government has further established national institutions whose mandate is to ensure that there are targeted programmes for the development of youth and women.
These institutions include the Department of Children, Women and People with Disability, the Gender Commission, and the National Youth Service among others.
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