Kayalethu Sotsha is a Senior Economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council. He obtained his MSc Agriculture (Agricultural Economics) at Fort Hare University under the supervision of Professor Ben Bester. He is currently doing his PhD in Agricultural Economics at Stellenbosch University under the supervision of Professor Nick Vink, focusing on the application of experimental economics on land reform policy analysis.

He hails from Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape, a disadvantaged rural village where many still depend on social grants. Kayalethu spent all of his childhood in rural public schools but was fortunate to make it to higher education assisted by NSFAS. “Due to my good performance – by my school’s standards – in Science subjects (including Agriculture) the Principal at my school advised me to further my studies in Agriculture at Fort Hare University. My family background and the full support from my mother instilled determination into me to change the situation at home. Hence, I took my principal’s advice” he reminisces.

He started his bachelor’s degree (in Agricultural Economics) at Fort Hare in 2007, which he completed in 2010. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Kayalethu had to make a very hard decision as to whether he should continue studying or not. After consulting with his lecturer Professor Ben Bester, he decided to continue with his studies much to the confusion of his mother. “My mother on the other hand could not understand that I want to continue studying, given hardships that the family was going through. I had to find some ways of assisting at home financially. I started a small business where I sold airtime, sweets and nick necks to students. I also got a sponsor from the Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Center (RVAC) at Fort Hare which funded my studies from 2011 to 2012” he said.

Upon completing his Masters at Fort Hare, Kayalethu enrolled for a PhD in Agricultural Economics at Stellenbosch University. “I received too much criticism from many people on this decision. But, I decided to brave it and do what I believed was best for me and for my future and that of my family’s. Here I am today, a senior economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council, and I am in the final stretches of my PhD.”

Kayalethu’s affinity with smallholder farmers has deep roots. His task as an agricultural economist at the NAMC is conducting research on market access for smallholder farmers in various commodities. While at Fort Hare, he did research focusing on smallholder farmers, mainly because of his experience growing up in Lusikisiki. Today, he heads up at the Agripreneur Journal, which seeks to create a platform where smallholder farmers share their experiences, skills, challenges and insights with each other.

In contributing towards the development of the agricultural sector, Kayalethu sees his role in the following line; “building networks with relevant stakeholders in the Agriculture sector and making a meaningful contribution to development of the smallholder farmers (particularly in the former homelands). Despite a small contribution (less than 3%) in the country’s GDP, agriculture remains one of the important sectors of the country’s economy and one of the major livelihood strategies for the poor. Therefore, it is our role as agricultural economists to keep it alive by maintaining current commercial activities, while developing the small farmers and assisting them to enter into the mainstream economy”.

Kayalethu gives credit to his mother Miss Nikiwe Sotsha (a true soldier and one of the best mothers in the world), former principle Mr MH Spenser, supervisors Professor Ben Bester (UFH) and Professor Nick Vink (SU), fellow student Jan Greyling (SU) for playing a great role in his life.