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17 May 2019 | Story Eloise Calitz | Photo Charl Devenish
Agribusiness Transformation Programme
At the launch of the programme during Nampo 2019 were, from the leftt: Anton Nicolaisen, Provincial Head: Free State and Northern Cape, Standard Bank; Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS; Mangi Ramabenyane, General Manager, Farmer Support and Development at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development; Nico Groenewald, Head: Agri-Business at Standard Bank; and Bigboy Kokoma, farmer from Bothaville.


Bigboy Kokoma, a 33-year-old ‘young’ farmer, speaks with confidence and pride about his family farm in the Bothaville district. One hundred and forty-two hectares of land that has been in the Kokoma family since 2005 when his father established the farm. The farm specialises in livestock, mostly Bonsmaras, and vegetables. “I want to set an example to other young farmers and, through this, become an ambassador of inspiration to my generation.”

Bigboy has a Diploma in Financial Management. “Having this qualification is a step closer to understanding the financial management of the farm, but if you want to take the leap to become a commercial farmer, you need greater knowledge and understanding to get you there.”  He is excited to have been selected for the Agribusiness Transformation Programme, because this will bring him closer to his dream of becoming a commercial farmer, to contribute to the economy of South Africa, and it will assist him in taking his family legacy further.

He is one of 25 farmers in the country who was selected to take part in the Agribusiness Transformation Programme. The programme’s main objective is to develop black emerging farmers through structured, accessible, and relevant agricultural and entrepreneurship training in order to become economically viable commercial farmers that will have greater impact in the agricultural sector in the Free State.

Importance of agriculture

Globally, the agricultural sector faces multiple challenges: it has to produce food to feed an exponentially growing world population, with a smaller rural labour force, adopt more energy-efficient and sustainable production methods, manage limited natural resources and climate change, and contribute to socio-economic development. 
 
Agriculture is of fundamental importance, not only on a global scale, but also on the African continent; therefore, we are especially proud of the Agribusiness Transformation Programme that will, in the long run, enable 25 farmers to become productive and well-functioning agri-business contributors that provide solutions for the much-needed challenges in food security, job creation, and the development of agricultural products.
 
Value of strong partnerships

The programme is an initiative of the University of the Free State (UFS), Standard Bank, and the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. They believe that strong partnerships are needed in the development of black emerging farmers, and to drive change in the sector. What makes the partnership successful, is the multiple strengths and expertise that each partner provides.

The UFS has a strong Agricultural Sciences division, with experience in training farmers in formal undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, as well as short courses.  The UFS Centre for Development Support has a solid record of developing entrepreneurs and university’s Innovation Office is at the forefront of technology transfer.

“The UFS is applying its strengths in education, training, innovation and technology transfer to ensure the development of these 25 farmers. We are excited to take the lead in this program and to ultimately contribute to a productive and well-functioning agri-business sector in South Africa. The impact of the programme is wide and the future brings possibilities of developing a model that will be replicated in the rest of South Africa and Africa,” says Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.

Standard Bank has strong expertise in financing the agricultural sector, stimulating enterprise development and SMMEs, and providing financial services to the public sector.  The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development provides services to farmers who have access to land.

Programme launched at Nampo 2019

The programme was fittingly launched at Nampo on 15 May 2019, bringing together leaders in agriculture, business, the media, and influencers in the sector to engage and meet with the 25 farmers. The discussion at the launch again reiterated the importance of this programme and the level of skills transfer this partnership will mobilise.



News Archive

Dr Francois Deacon appears in international film, Last of the Longnecks, due to research on giraffes
2017-04-04

Description: Giraffe research read more  Tags: Giraffe research read more

Dr Francois Deacon was invited by the producer of Last
of the Longnecks
to be part of a panel handling a question-
and-answer-session about the film.
Photo: Supplied

A great honour was bestowed on a researcher at the University of the Free State (UFS) when he was invited to the preview of the documentary film, Last of the Longnecks. Dr Francois Deacon, lecturer and researcher in the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the UFS, who also has a role in the film, attended the preview at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Smithsonian National Museum in Washington DC, in the US, in March this year. The preview formed part of the DC Environmental Film Festival.

The Environmental Film Festival in the US capital is the world’s leading showcase of films with an environmental theme and which aims to improve the public’s understanding of the environment through the power of film. During the festival, the largest such festival in the US, more than 150 films were shown to an audience of 30 000 plus. 

Dr Deacon was invited by the producer of Last of the Longnecks to be part of a panel handling a question-and-answer-session about the film directly after the show. He described it as the greatest moment of his life. 

Role in the film Last of the Longnecks

“My role in the film was as the researcher studying giraffes in their natural habitat in order to understand them better, so that we may better protect them, and be able to provide better education on the problem in Africa,” says Dr Deacon. 

“Together with Prof Nico Smit, also from the UFS Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences, Hennie Butler from the Department of Zoology, and Martin Haupt from Africa Wildlife Tracking, we were the first researchers in the world to equip giraffes with GPS collars and to conduct research on this initiative,” he says. This ground-breaking research has attracted international media attention to Dr Deacon and Prof Smit. 

“Satellite tracking is proving to be extremely valuable in the wildlife environment. The unit is based on a mobile global two-way communication platform, utilising two-way data satellite communication, complete with GPS systems.

“It allows us to track animals day and night, while we monitor their movements remotely from a computer over a period of a few years. These systems make the efficient control and monitoring of wildlife in all weather conditions and in near-to-real time possible. We can even communicate with the animals, calling up their positions or changing the tracking schedules,” says Dr Deacon.

The collars, which have been designed to follow giraffes, enable researchers to obtain and apply highly accurate data in order to conduct research. Data can be analysed to determine territory, distribution or habitat preference for any particular species.

Over a period of three years (2014-2016), the Last of the Longnecks team from Iniosante LLC captured on film how Dr Deacon and his team used the GPS collars in Africa to collect data and conduct research on the animals.

“With our research, which aims to understand why giraffes are becoming extinct in Africa, we are looking at the animal in its habitat but not only the animal on its own. If the habitat of these animals is lost, they will be lost as well. Therefore, our focus is on conservation and better understanding the habitat. The giraffe is only a tool to better understand the habitat problem,” says Dr Deacon. 

Since the beginning of his research Dr Deacon and his team have had six new collar designs, with animals in four different reserves being equipped with the collars. The collars use the best technology available in the world and make it possible to determine how giraffes communicate over long distances, and how their sleep patterns function. Physiological and biological focus is placed on the giraffe’s stress levels, natural hormone cycles, and milk quality in cows. 

Description: Giraffe 2017 Tags: Giraffe 2017

Photo: Supplied

Experience at the film festival

“Absolutely amazing. Totally beyond our frame of reference as South Africans.” This is how Dr Deacon describes his experience of the three days in Washington DC during the film festival.

“It was an absolute honour to be part of the global preview of the film and to be able to work with Ashley Davison, the director of the film, and his team. I am just a rural farm boy who dreams big, and now this dream is known worldwide!” he says. 

The film, which will be launched in April, will be screened in South Africa on the National Geographic channel in May 2017. Meanwhile, the film will also be shown at eight other film festivals in the US. 

Work will start on a follow-up documentary in October and Dr Deacon is excited about the prospect. A mobile X-ray machine will be available from October. Internal sonars could also be performed on each of the animals. Researchers from around the world will form part of the team which will be led and co-ordinated by Dr Deacon and his co-workers at the UFS.

Former articles: 

18 Nov 2016: http://www.ufs.ac.za/templates/news-archive-item?news=7964 
23 August 2016: http://www.ufs.ac.za/templates/news-archive-item?news=7856 
9 March 2016:Giraffe research broadcast on National Geographic channel
18 Sept 2015 Researchers reach out across continents in giraffe research
29 May 2015: Researchers international leaders in satellite tracking in the wildlife environment

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