Dr Zimkitha Soji-Mbongo was so worried about the growing number of the unemployed youth in the country that she felt she needed to do something to help address it. She is currently a National Foundation Foundation (NRF) funded post-doctoral fellow attached to the Livestock and Pasture department in the faculty of science and agriculture at the University of Fort Hare.
According to Africa Check, from April to June 2020, South Africa recorded about 2.5 million young people aged 15 to 34 were unemployed. This translates into an unemployment rate of 34%. The figure was based on the Statistics South Africa’s ‘narrow definition’ of unemployment, which focuses only on people who took active steps to look for work or start their own self-employment initiatives.
In terms of the ‘expanded definition’, which include youth within the same aged bracket but who have given up looking for work, the picture looks even more depressing as the number rises to 55.2%.
Soji-Mbongo’s intervention took the form of an agribusiness which she started in 2016 while studying towards her Masters’ degree. She used her NRF stipend to officially register it in April this year. Called SM Agric (PTY) Ltd, the company is a small-scale poultry farm based in Mount Coke and operates outside King William’s Town.
She expanded it to include vegetables and she aims to add piggery and egg laying division. As an entrepreneur and a trained meat scientist she is confident her business would succeed. During her fellowship, Soji-Mbongo published two papers which focused on beef production.
“I bought more chickens, expanded the vegetable garden and registered my business. I am currently building a piggery and will soon acquire egg layers,” said the proud Soji-Mbongo. She said she has first-hand experience of being unemployed after she completed her Masters’ degree. And this served as a motivation for her to start the agribusinesss.
Through her company Soji-Mbongo creates direct jobs for the locals even though her sector relies on seasonal labour. “When it’s harvesting or slaughtering time, I hire people from my area for a couple of days,” said Soji-Mbongo.
Her intention is to expand her business and eventually go into meat processing, which is not only her passion but also her forte. Said Soji-Mbongo: “I want to open an abattoir where I will be able to create more sustainable jobs. I also want to instil the culture of creating self-employment to young graduates out there, especially in the agriculture sector. We need to stop relying on government to create jobs for us, with our skills and knowledge; we can become the job creators.”
She believes that if more youths become entrepreneurs they can learn to initiate their own business and therefore create more jobs. She is targeting TVET colleges as the first place where she can engage and share her knowledge by training students who graduated in agriculture on how they can succeed in the industry. “I strongly believe that there can never be enough food. There will always be a need to be food secure. We need to equip each other in this industry and grow more food, together,” said Soji-Mbongo.