Future Farmers – Noku Mweli
Future Farmers – Noku Mweli – A Passion for sustainable agriculture
For Noku Mweli her journey into farming was almost by accident. Her dream was to attend the UKZN and study pharmacy , but an opportunity arose for her to participate in a unique farming scholarship program.
The Science Foundation Programme was looking for candidates to send overseas to Costa Rica. 17 year-old-Noku applied for the scholarship as she had studied physics and biology , she was told that she had made the final selection to study in Costa Rica at the Earth University.
This unusual agronomy programme teaches all the students about farming within the context of sustainability. One of the former scholars, a male from South Africa, recommended that the selection panel not choose a woman because it was “too hard.” Ironically this student dropped out and an enthusiastic Noku took up the challenge.
Her three year experience at the Earth University was to lead her into the farming sphere and develop a passion for sustainable agriculture. Growing up in the township near Botha’s Hill, she had not had any farming experience. Her middle class parents had commercial jobs and her late mother had been involved in community development projects.
Noku was raised to do her best and to accept opportunities and challenges, the prospect of going overseas was exciting for her, although she did not have any idea of what awaited her. The three years were tough and also character building.
Noku explained: “We did not get any money for our living expenses although we had accommodation, so I had to find a job at the University and I had to learn Spanish in order to understand the lectures.”
A positive attitude saw her exceeding all expectations and she made friends from other African countries. “I was the only black woman in my class and it was hard. I realised that racism occurs everywhere. In Costa Rica people do not have a good attitude to African students and we had to work hard to prove to them we were capable and good enough.”
The Earth University’s degree programme had a deep impact on Noku who developed a passion for recycling and working with nature. The campus is the only carbon neutral university campus in the world. They have a huge emphasis on recycling and using nature as a guide.
The University has its own medicinal plants garden and the canteen grows salad vegetables and herbs in flowerbeds. They use solar panels for their energy requirements and recycle all the water used. They grow crops and also make use of all waste. Their banana crop was harvested and then the fibre from the banana peels were used to make paper.
“I learnt to respect nature and also I realised that if we don’t change our attitude to the earth we will be in serious trouble. Farmers are the custodians of the future, the life givers, and we will have to grow food to feed the world and it will be our job to save the environment as well.”
Students attending the Earth University come from 30 different countries and they all return home with ideas that can be used in their home countries. Noku came back from her stint overseas looking for a job, as a female it was tougher than she expected. She met Future Farmer’s Judy Stuart who was impressed with her positive attitude.
Judy helped Noku find a farming position where she could use her knowledge. She worked at Valley Fresh in Hammarsdale at a vegetable farm. They grow food to sell and also to supply a children’s home.
Her experience in hydroponics were invaluable and she rapidly rose to a leadership position. Noku who also has IT and admin skills was recruited this year to help select candidates for the Future Farmer’s programme.
The Future Farmers programme selects young aspiring farmers and places them in jobs where they can specialise in various aspects of farming. They do an internship and then go overseas for experience and come back highly skilled.
To find out more about Future Farmers go to: www.futurefarmersfoundation.com