On 27 January 2023 the North-West University (NWU) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), representing the Potchefstroom College of Agriculture and the Taung Agricultural College, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the NWU’s Potchefstroom Campus.

From left are Dr Karabo Mabe, acting chief director for agricultural support services at DARD, Mr Thupi Mokhatla, head of agriculture and rural development for the North West DARD, Prof Bismark Tyobeka, NWU principal and vice-chancellor, and Prof Robert Balfour, deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at the NWU.

The objective of the MoU was to offer a framework for cooperation between the parties in pursuit of their respective statutory tasks and on a variety of mutually beneficial topics. The parties agreed to collaborate on matters ranging from research and capacity building, to economic development and any other areas that the parties may identify and agree on from time to time, including faculty and student exchanges.

The respective heads, Prof Bismark Tyobeka as the principal and vice-chancellor of the NWU, and Mr Thupi Mokhatla as the head of agriculture and rural development for the North West DARD, led the signing proceedings. A contingent of directors in the relevant fields also represented both parties.

“The start of the year is a critical period in the lives of our young people as they prepare to enter a new chapter of their life, relating to gaining access to universities. However, the unfortunate aspect is that most individuals do not meet the criteria for university admission,” said Prof Tyobeka during his opening remarks.

Prof Tyobeka emphasised the failure to recognise the relevance of colleges and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, notably agricultural colleges. He went on to say that it was our obligation to ensure that these alternative tertiary-education options stay viable to the youth and are not viewed as a last resort for furthering their education.

Prof Tyobeka emphasised that the signing of this MoU would focus on this option of postsecondary education for young people, as agricultural institutions held the key to unlocking self-sufficiency skills, with an emphasis on food security.

“Without functional and competent agricultural colleges throughout South Africa and in our province, we risk abandoning our subsistence farmers,” he warned.

“In my inaugural address on 26 August 2022, I highlighted that one of my visions to form a strong collaboration with the provincial government, and I am pleased that this collaboration has come to fruition.” said Prof Tyobeka.

Prof Tyobeka said an important aspect of this agreement, was that it would address the immediate needs of the NWU and its students, particularly those on the Potchefstroom Campus. Capacity building within the DARD in the sense of emerging with much-needed research collaboration to advance knowledge will also be part of the agreement.

Mr Mokhatla said the DARD was pleased to be embarking on this partnership as there were many areas where the NWU would offer much-needed assistance. He noted that climate change increased natural disasters. Addressing the impact as soon as possible with the necessary resources would be extremely beneficial to the department, as the community invariably sought support and solutions from the department. He stressed the need for system technologies that would serve as warning systems, alerting farmers to impending disasters and allowing them to take preventative steps.

“We would like to empower our farmers to be proactive; to take measures that will enable them to avert the impact of natural catastrophes or to be minimally impacted by these,” he said.

Another point of concern mentioned by Mr Mokhatla was that the North West farming industry fails to contribute to the country’s GDP despite the department’s support over the years. “Perhaps the university

can aid us by reviewing our strategy and guiding us, as the province is rural and may require tailor-made interventions.”

The need for a management development programme for the department’s managers was also a crucial need. This will help them to execute their responsibilities more efficiently.

Mr Mokhatla echoed Prof Tyobeka’s concern regarding food security, indicating that North West was ranked ninth out of all the provinces. “Through several interventions we have now advanced to the eighth position, but more needs to be done. We look forward to this collaboration bringing about the necessary changes,” he said.

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