Ebenezer runs a two year fulltime apprenticeship that enables young people (17-23 year olds) to start and run their own small-scale farm/agribusiness. It has a zealously Christian agenda, with compulsory bible studies and Christian education classes mixed in with a curriculum of business studies, maths, English and agriculture. Mornings are spent in the fields doing practical work, with afternoons spent in lessons.

The Centre has been running since 2007 and is located in Mablauwuni Village in the dry Matopo area of Matebeleland South. It is situated on a farm owned by the family that set up this youth training project.  The development of Ebenezer was largely enabled by the completion of a new dam on the farm, which has allowed irrigated agriculture to take place.

The Centre is co-ordinated by Renee Cunningham and in 2012, there were approximately 30 resident apprentices, all from the local area and not required to pay any enrolment fees. For the first six months, the apprentices gain basic skills in agri-business. The system is quite unique in that it is based in an ‘earn and learn’ principle. That is, after six months, each apprentice is allocated a small plot of land on which to grow their own cash crops (tomatoes, onions, beans, cabbages, etc). At this point, each apprentice is required to contribute $30 a month towards their food and accommodation at the Centre. They each utilise at least three 30mx30m plots and are encouraged to cultivate at least three different kinds of crop.  A contract is entered into between the apprentice and the company (the Cunninghams have a family agro-processing business), who provide the initial agricultural inputs.  They sell their produce to the buyer- a guaranteed market- and split the profits 50:50 until they are able to independently purchase their own inputs and therefore shift into a new contractual (90:10) relationship. By the end of two year period, successful apprentices will have managed to buy their own tools and saved enough to start their own small agri-business when they return home.  The system thus encourages discipline, forward-planning and entrepreneurial behaviour.

The Centre does not teach or promote organic production; they apply chemical fertilisers and pesticides and also use spray irrigation 24-hours a day. (They do encourage the use of mulch, manure and crop rotation). Ebenezer is developing and expanding a broiler chicken enterprise and aim to increase their monthly turnover from 3000 broiler hens sold per month to 8000. The students are graded on the basis of ‘the average Feed Conversion ratio and mortality rate’.  There is clearly not a huge emphasis here on environmental sustainability and holistic health. They are though, committed to supporting the economic and social development of the participating youth and promoting business ethics and entrepreneurial initiatives in the local community.

Introducing Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

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