By Kyra-Kay Rensburg
Lona Odendaal has managed to secure 27 internships within the fruit industry, and more than half have gone on to complete graduate programmes and secure work within the industry. What is Odendaal’s recipe for success? She is passionate and cares about everyone who crosses her path. The individual attention and care that Odendaal puts into every single applicant are what sets her apart. She believes there is power in the presence and therefore believes in meeting each student in person.
Where it all began
Odendaal has always been involved in adult education and life skills. Fifteen years ago, she started doing training on farms and packhouses and then got involved in community development. During this time, she helped a final-year agricultural student studying at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology find a place he could fulfil his practical year to graduate. This sparked widespread interest from other students who reached out to her to assist them in finding internships.
“That is when I realised there is a big need–from the student’s perspective. Especially those that do not come from a farm or do not necessarily have a link with the farm but need practical experience. I also found that there were quite a few farms that were looking for new potential to be developed,” said Odendaal.
At first, Odendaal channelled the programme through the Koue Bokkeveld Learning Centre, however, after some changes that were no longer possible. She didn’t want to abandon the programme and struck up a partnership with Hortgro. Odendaal now acts as a service provider and runs the programme on behalf of Hortgro. The internship/mentorship programme is organised by Kutsha, meaning “new recruit” in Xhosa, and funded by Hortgro.
Where a student is placed is very important as it will affect the outcome of their careers. “My recipe for success was to make a good placement and not to just place any student on any farm but get to know how the farm works and their values and character and to try and find a student who will fit in,” explained Odendaal.
There needs to be a midway between the expectation of the farm and the student. And that is where Frikkie Jacobs brought the right balance. Jacobs, production manager at Bo-Radyn, Queen Anne, outside Villiersdorp, has provided mentoring to five young agriculturists since 2018.
The story of how the internship came about starts with Jacobs’ own journey of establishing himself in the industry. Jacobs recalls that when he left college and started out as a junior in the industry it was particularly challenging to receive guidance and information from his superior. “I wanted to grow, and I couldn’t do that without people wanting to help me,” explained Jacobs.
He vowed that if he ever had the opportunity to guide people, especially young people who want to grow within the industry, he would rise to the challenge, never withhold information, and help develop their knowledge as fast as possible.
Jacobs’ first intern was someone that he knew from an early age, Johan Coetzee. Jacobs ran into Coetzee at a symposium in 2017. At the time Coetzee was a student a Cape Peninsula University of Technology in search of an internship. On the spur of the moment, Jacobs told him that if he was unsuccessful in finding a placement, he was prepared to mentor him.
Mentoring Coetzee turned out to be a huge success and other students followed. Most of them were placed by Odendaal. Although she reviews each candidate’s CV, Jacobs says he prefers also to interview and select students.
THE AIM OF IT ALL
“I asked myself–what are we trying to achieve with the internship,” said Jacobs. The purpose of the internship is to have the students be so prepared and well-versed that they can work on any farm in the country at a junior managerial level. Jacobs’ goal is to empower them with the necessary skills to fulfil their roles. “We are busy training experts of the future,” explained Jacobs.
A TESTIMONY OF SUCCESS
Jacobs’ first three interns, Johan Coetzee, Gerswin Hill en Sive Hobe, went on to complete their advanced Diploma in Agriculture after their mentorship. Coetzee, Hill, and Sive have permanently been employed by Queen Anne. “The three did so well that we did not want to lose them and lucky for them, there were positions available within the company,” said Jacobs.
Hill and Hobe competed in the Department of Agriculture: Western Cape Farm Worker of the Year competition held in the EGVV area, in the category of junior production manager. In the Villiersdorp area, Hobe came first and Hill second.
Caption: Dream Team, from left: Frikkie Jacobs (Manager/mentor), Johann Coetzee (2018 intern), Gerswin Hill (2019 intern), Sive Hobe (2020 intern), Grant Tuties (2022 intern), Vinod Swartz (2023 intern), and Lona Odendaal (mentor)