Sojourn in South Africa

By Mel Jenkins

Participant in the 2017 IFAJ Alltech Young Leaders program

IFAJ Boot Camp – for Alltech Young Leaders and Du Pont Pioneer Master Class – I could quite happily go through everything from start to finish as there’s so much to tell, but it would take up your entire day! So here is a bit of an overview.

The first day of the boot camp consisted of members of the Young Leader and Masterclass groups arriving from all corners of the globe. In the Young Leader group, the participants were from Australia, the USA, Northern Ireland, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Kenya and two from South Africa. The Masterclass was made up of delegates from a number of African countries (Togo, Zambia, Gambia, Uganda, Cameroon, Tanzania, Ghana) and from Georgia – each without their own guild of agricultural journalists.

Mel Jenkins works for an agricultural journalism and PR company in south-west England and was the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists nominee for the 2017 IFAJ Alltech Young Leaders program. Photo credit: Steve Werblow

In the evening, we all had a meal together under a grape vine covered pergola, where we received a welcome from the IFAJ president, Owen Roberts. Everyone then introduced themselves briefly, as a bit of an ice-breaker.

The following day consisted of several farm visits hosted by the two main sponsors of the Young Leaders and the Masterclass: Alltech and Du Pont Pioneer. The Alltech farm visit took us to a very diverse family run business that had set up their own feed mill in order to keep costs down, while Pioneer Du Pont hosted two farmers who talked about the agricultural situation in South Africa and took us to one of their scientific research facilities. The day concluded with two presentations from Agri SA, a federal organisation that promotes the interests of its farmer members. The presentations addressed the biggest issues South African agriculture faces along with a number of facts and figures, to give the group a lot of in-depth information.

The third day was mostly spent in a conference room, but it was one of the most useful and interesting parts of the boot camp. After two presentations on leadership – one from Alltech’s Patrick Charlton, and the other from Steve Werblow, the IFAJ secretary general, freelance writer and photographer. Most of the rest of the day comprised of short presentations from the group about the biggest challenges facing agriculture in each person’s country. This was one of the most interesting and insightful parts of the boot camp and I took a lot away from it. It helped everyone understand how significant a role each of us play for farmers and the agricultural industry as a whole.

2017 BOOTCAMP: Participants in the IFAJ Alltech Young Leaders and IFAJ Du Pont Pioneer Master Class held in Pretoria, South Africa just prior to the IFAJ Congress. Photo credit: Johnnie Belinda Cluff

The learning, networking and fun only started with the boot camp. The rest of the week – once the Congress started officially – gave me the opportunity to get to know some of the most wonderful people I have ever met and to see and experience a whole host of different agricultural businesses in South Africa.

Throughout the week, we all had the opportunity to hear from a number of speakers on South African agriculture and how farmers and the industry will deal with the problems that face it. This got kick started with the Africa Forum, where we had presentations from a number of agricultural journalists and industry representatives.

We then headed off to a second hotel, Kievitskroon, which was absolutely gorgeous. We then had a fairly relaxed Sunday afternoon that a number of us spent by the pool while other journalists from around the world arrived. The evening heralded the first formal dinner, where all of the Young Leaders and Masterclass participants were surprised with a formal award from Alltech and Pioneer DuPont.

Monday brought the official opening of the Congress and a number of keynote address from industry representatives, along with panel discussions on important issues in South Africa. During breaks and at lunch, the Congress delegates had the opportunity to see some native breeds of livestock that were situated in a tent outside. The evening consisted of a formal dinner and the prize giving for the IFAJ awards.

On Tuesday, everyone had to make sure they were on their designated bus by 7am! Some people visited the Cradle of Humankind, others went to the Buhle Farmers Academy and some went to Schoeman Boerdery. I went to the Monate Lodge game breeders, where I got overly excited upon spotting a giraffe! That evening we headed for a surprise location and upon arrival in the dark, were none the wiser to where we actually were. Dinner was set out in a circular open air room with a fire pit in the middle and we were treated to some traditional dance, then to music from a South African band and finally, the IFAJ band got up and played – at which point everyone moved to the dance floor!

Wednesday was a mix of a day, with another 7am departure taking each bus to a different location and then onto Johannesburg airport for an afternoon flight to Cape Town – and where I unfortunately lost my first IFAJ Swiss Army knife! That evening, after a delayed flight, everyone convened in the Cape Sun hotel for dinner, which consisted of a real treat made up of numerous serveries dotted around the hall, and loads of options to choose from.

After a very late night, Thursday began with another 7am coach journey. I travelled to the beautiful Van Loveren vineyard, where I had the most delicious buffet lunch with unlimited white wine, after a tour around the vineyard itself! After this, we travelled to a second vineyard called Dutoitskool, which is a Fairtrade project that has built a school for its workers’ children and has sent some to university. In the evening, the four coaches met at a winery for an informal dinner accompanied by the wonderful Pinotage wine!

Friday dawned with the final 7am start, everyone headed off on their respective coaches. I visited a dairy farm, with over 3,000 cows – consisting of Holstein, Jerseys and Ayrshires. The afternoon was a final panel discussion at the University of Stellenbosch before travelling back to the hotel for a farewell dinner. A night of speeches, wine, passing the flag over to the Netherlands representatives, a bit more wine, some photos and a sing-a-long to Owen Roberts on piano in the hotel lobby, ensued. A wonderful night was had by everyone, and it was with a very determined mindset that I went to bed at 4.30am and was back up at 7am to make sure I was at breakfast to say goodbye to everybody. It was so sad to say goodbye as I just had to most wonderful time, but I can honestly say, I cannot wait for the next one!

Really, I need to say thank you. The trip to South Africa was the opportunity of a life time and I would love to encourage others to apply to represent the BGAJ in the Netherlands, the USA and beyond. If future participants enjoy themselves half as much as I did, then applying is worth it. I am very lucky to have met the group of Young Leaders – we all get on so well and have been in regular contact since the end of the Congress. We are all planning to reunite as soon and frequently as possible.

I’d very much enjoy regaling you with all some of my tales from the trip – how I won an IFAJ swiss army knife for a story about my worst job, and then managed to have it confiscated at airport security, only to still end up bringing one back to the UK with me! – But they are numerous and all that matters is that I learned so much, met amazing people and had a wonderful time.