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16 October 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Dr Jan Swanepoel believes that the agricultural sector must be assisted in every possible way to shift its focus from mere subsistence farming, as is still the case in many parts of the world, to sustaining the lives of millions of people on the planet.

17 October is marked as International Day for the Eradication of Poverty by the United Nations (UN). 

The University of the Free State (UFS) is involved in several initiatives aimed at empowering communities to create a sustainable livelihood for themselves in the long run.

One of these initiatives includes a project to build competitiveness for communal farmers by developing the wool value chain in the Free State. 

The UFS Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension (CENSARDE) submitted a proposal to the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM); their proposal was selected, and they were awarded a grant of US$300 000. 

Dr Jan Swanepoel, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at CENSARDE, says the world is moving from local and national markets towards a global system of trading. This means that neighbouring farmers working on small plots of land may be competing with large industrial farmers from another country in a single marketplace.

A drive to commercialise

He adds that in developing countries, there is increasing pressure on farmers to commercialise their operations. “In order to meet the drive for greater commercialisation, new skills must be developed to support farmers in becoming better entrepreneurs. Assistance towards infrastructure must be provided; and the needs of farmers, such as market access, must be identified and catered for.”

Dr Swanepoel points out that the agricultural sector must be assisted in every possible way to shift its focus from mere subsistence farming, as is still the case in many parts of the world, to sustaining the livelihoods of millions of people on the planet. 

“As the agricultural sector starts to realise this more fundamental role and responsibilities with regard to production, new strategies can be conceived towards the enhancement of the socio-economic status of all role players in the agricultural sector,” he says.

One of the industries that agriculture in South Africa can expand on, is the wool industry. 

“China is the biggest buyer of South African wool. During lockdown, no wool from South Africa was exported to China, causing the price of wool to drop significantly. Fortunately, the markets have opened up, the excess wool from Australia has been absorbed, and China is buying wool at full capacity now. Even though the price of wool is 30% below the price of last year, the markets are reacting positively, showing a steady increase. Wool buyers believe that this trend will continue due to international market demand exceeding the supply,” says Dr Swanepoel.

He also believes the creation of niche products from the wool will add to the existing value chain, creating more jobs and an opportunity for enlarging the export market.

Profitable and sustainable venture

CENCARDE is involved in an attempt to transform communal woolgrowers’ production from an underachieving enterprise to a profitable, sustainable, and renewable venture to enhance the livelihoods of communal wool producers. 

“In addition, with the extension of the value chain directly to consumers, job creation and development plays a vital role in supporting the South African National Treasury’s strategy,” adds Dr Swanepoel.

This project is thus built around the commercialisation of wool production in the communal areas of the Free State, by developing strategies to be implemented concurrently in order to attempt to manage the various challenges faced by these growers. 

As part of this project, a centralised infrastructure hub will be established on the UFS experimental farm to support wool production and processing. Woolgrowers, sheepshearers, and men and women from the community will also be equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to operate in the wool industry. Adding to these skills, members of the community will be taught entrepreneurial skills in different aspects of wool processing, such as knitting, making felt products, spinning, and weaving. 

Another helpful aspect of this project is linking the communal woolgrowers to markets, and in so doing, giving them a collaborative advantage.

Educational benefits

However, not only communal woolgrowers will benefit from this programme. It also has educational benefits, as the project is designed to incorporate research. According to Dr Swanepoel, CENSARDE is very committed and are using this project as a pilot to demonstrate the potential for a more multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach to education, research, and development. Fifteen students will directly benefit from this project, including two PhD and three master’s students.

Also adding value to the project is the development of private partnerships in the form of the Dohne Merino Breed Society, commercial farmers, and other key wool marketing agencies – which will assist with technical matters and knowledge – as well as the Free State Department of Agriculture.

All participants strive for more profitable and competitive communal woolgrowers in a changing global wool market. The project is not another educational exercise but will equip woolgrowers to change their circumstances for the better.

News Archive

Meet our Council: Ndaba Ntsele – Inspiring entrepreneurs
2016-04-19

Description: Ndaba Ntsele Tags: Ndaba Ntsele

Mr Ntsele
Photo: Stephen Collett

 To call Mr Ndaba Ntsele just a businessman seems like a bit of an understatement. The Executive Chairman and co-founder of Pamodzi Group Limited lives and breathes business, entrepreneurship, and wealth creation. He is also a member of the Council of the University of the Free State (UFS) since September 2013.

His greatest passion is entrepreneurship, and sharing his ideas of self-employment with young (and old) South Africans. “I preach self-employment wherever I go. Everyone knows that unemployment is a major problem in our country. However, people often expect the government or big corporations to provide them with jobs. I like to influence people to start thinking about working for themselves, thereby creating opportunities for employing others,” he says.

His entrepreneurial drive extends even to his time on the UFS Council. Now in his second term, Mr Ntsele has been well placed to get a sense of the kind of contribution the university and its students could make to South Africa, and even further afield.  

“In addition to training students for all the other important industries in South Africa, I think the UFS is ideally situated to create agricultural entrepreneurs. The Free State is one of South Africa’s prime agricultural areas, after all. Food security is an issue worldwide, and it is an area in which we could make a real contribution by training food producers, food technologists, and agricultural specialists. In fact, I think the UFS could become the leading agricultural institution in the country.”

Being the best is something that he strives for continually, while high standards are not something he shirks. In fact, he believes that Council members should hold an institution accountable for maintaining the highest standards possible, whether it is in governance, financials, procurement, or any other areas of importance in an institution.

As the executive chairman of a multi-billion African-owned group with assets across the globe, Mr Ntsele does not have a great deal of free time. However, he enjoys sitting down with MBA students and graduates to share his views about entrepreneurship.

“If I can change their mind-set from ‘others must employ me’ to ‘I need to create my own employment’, then I will feel as if I have accomplished something,” he says.

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