Successive surveys and research findings continue to paint a depressing picture about the state of joblessness in the country particularly among the youth. The situation has gotten so dire that the youth harbour no hope to a point where they are not keen to study, look for job or even get any form of training.
Professor Hilda Kwena Mokoboki, a senior lecturer at the school of agricultural sciences at the North-West University (NWU), is leading a “multi-sectoral” and intervention initiative to promote mental health and wellbeing as well as discourage youth from abusing substance and alcohol due to unemployment. The project is driven by the NWU’s faculty of national and agricultural sciences and targets young people in Lokaleng village in Mahikeng. According to Professor Mokoboki, two main subject groups form part of the project, namely, animal and crop sciences.
The animal science subject group promotes the production of indigenous chickens to improve household food security. Similarly, the crop science subject group fosters the cultivation of amaranthus and other indigenous African leafy vegetables. In addition to this, the agricultural economics and extension unit aims to equip the local youth marketing and financial management skills.
Professor Mokoboki believes that by concentrating on economic activities that are easily accessible such as indigenous chicken will provide local communities and families with a livelihood and also contribute to food security. She says this aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as “framework and lifestyle intervention for rural community development initiative.
Rural poultry farmer
Professor Mokoboki says: “Indigenous chicken breeds are well known for their tropical adaptability, resistance to diseases, and plumage colours that help protect them against predators.” She adds: “I believe that the goal of a rural poultry farmer is to have birds that not only lay more eggs with an optimum size, but whose chicks can also grow to an optimum bodyweight. We will therefore be using indigenous breeds for this project, which are often much cheaper to keep.”
What is more, says Professor Mokoboki, these chickens live off the land through scavenging and this means they can thrive with minimum animal healthcare and can therefore produce without needing regular supply of chicken feed and water. Furthermore, these chickens also have natural immunity against local diseases, says the professor. She says these birds, compared to their commercial meat chickens, are leaner but have more nutrient-dense meat which is tougher because of their outdoor lifestyle and diet. “The meat is considered tastier and healthier than commercial broiler meat,” she adds.
African leafy vegetables
Her counterpart who leads the subject group on crop science, Dr Cornelia Lebopa, says underutilised African leafy vegetables (ALVs) have the potential to help solve the problem of household and food and food insecurity, mostly confined to rural parts of the country. Says Dr Lebopa: “These ALVs include amaranthus (Amaranthus spp), Cat’s whiskers (Cleome gynandra), blackjack (Bidens pilosa), wild okra (Corchorus olitorius), and nightshade (Solanum retroflexum complex).”
She says these indigenous vegetables are believed to be rich in both macro-elements and micro-nutrients such as zinc, iron and copper, and also metabolites such as nutraceutical compounds and vitamins A and C.
Underutilised African leafy vegetables
“Although the various benefits of underutilised African leafy vegetable species are now well known, there has not been a large scale adoption in terms of cultivation, utilisation, and commercialisation,” says Dr Lebopa.
However, she says, the leaf yield of endemic or native ALV species such as Amaranthus greacizans, Amaranthus thurngergii, and Amaranthus hybridus is still very low when compared with commercial leafy vegetables such as cabbage and Swiss chard and other improved amaranthus genotypes from other parts of the world. Dr Lebopa says luckily these improved genotypes from the World Vegetable Centre are now available in South Africa through a collaborative agreement between the NWU and the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa.”