From September 8th to September 19th 2019, eight students from the HLBLA St. Florian and HBLA Elmberg participated in the school exchange program “Western Cape — Upper Austria.”

This is a new exchange program that aims to expose Austrian students to South African culture and the different practices and techniques employed by South African farms and farmers. It operates on a two-year rotation; last year, students from a school in South Africa visited Upper Austria, and this year, students from HBLA St. Florian and HBLA Elmberg visited South Africa. While the participating school in South Africa varies from year to year, HBLA St. Forian and HBLA Elmberg are always the participating schools from Upper Austria. This year’s student participants – who are all currently in the Matura class – included Johanna Huber, Felix Lumetsberger, Robert Pargfrieder, Fabian Poinstingl, Anna Breinesberger, Lena Heibl, Martina Seyr, and Kathrin Weissensteiner. Mag.a Christa Möslinger and Mag.a Martina Schobersberger accompanied the group.

At the Department of Agriculture at Elsenburg College, students were given the opportunity to learn about Western Cape’s agriculture, its agricultural education, and the 4th industrial revolution. In contrast to Austria, 50 percent of South Africa is considered dry country, meaning that these regions receive less than 200 mm of rain per year. In Western Cape specifically, the agriculture scene consists of 6653 commercial farmers (who are predominantly white farmers) and 9894 smallholder farmers (who are predominantly black farmers). Elsenburg comprises of 800 ha, and the spring season officially begins on the first of September. Its official unemployment rate is 29 percent but the narrow definition is 39 percent.

Every day, students were exposed to new perspectives pertaining to farming in South Africa. Daily trips included visits to research labs, schools, wine cellars, farms, and nurseries. All in all, the students were treated with outstanding hospitality by the South Africans. They especially appreciated their good humor and different point of view towards farming. South African farmers take a lot of pride in their work – often regarding themselves as “the ones who feed the world.” Agriculture is by far the biggest source of employment in South Africa. Due to the country’s difficult history, white South African farmers tend to be educated to be managers while black and colored people tend do the farm work. In Austria, however, farmers combine both functions since farms are almost always family run businesses.

Students also got to know the different aspects of the free market compared to the eco-social market economy in Europe. Apart from these aspects, the students were stunned by the huge fields and the large scale farming. Other facts are the technical advances in the area of irrigation systems and how concepts of the 4th industrial revolution are being implemented. The school exchange program has even motivated some students who are interested in wine production and food processing to continue their education in South Africa after graduation.

Overall, the exchange program has been a huge success for everyone involved. The students and farms in Austria and South Africa have already profited enormously from the exchange of knowledge and ideas. Although it is a relatively new program, we are excited to continue to offer Austrian and South African students such a unique opportunity.