A government partnership at last

Success in SA agriculture lies in the government helping those who can help developing farmers.

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My recent visit with VKB to the Free State, where I toured the farm of one of the smallholders it is assisting, left me feeling highly optimistic. It could well be that there is a profitable future for such farmers after all. Often government successes are given too little credit, especially in the agriculture sector. But the work being done on this farm is impressive, and a direct result of the department of rural development’s Recapitalisation and Development Programme (RADP).

Gugile Nkwinti deserves much credit. Seeing at first hand what smallholder David Matobako, his mentor Francios Crause, VKB and the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development had achieved also showed me that public and private partnerships really can work. Apparently, Grain SA is also a partner in the RADP. It has been involved with developing farmers for many years and has done an excellent job in this regard. I have no doubt that as a partner of the RADP it will continue to do so.

According to its representatives, VKB is involved with five farmers, while Grain SA has 16 under its wing. There are more strategic partners involved in various projects. I suspect that when Land Bank threatened a few years ago to repossess some farms that had been bought for land reform beneficiaries but had failed, it was a turning point. Nkwinti said that at the launch of the RADP his department had targeted 1 807 projects. Currently, close to 600 farmers are being assisted at a cost of about R1,2 billion.

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Involving the private sector
Let me commend the department for realising that it is not their job alone to develop smallholder farmers. It makes much more sense to support those who have the skills to do so – that is, the private sector. The problem all along has been that government has taken it upon itself to run development projects, knowing that it has neither the skills nor capacity to do so.

We all know that when there is a great deal of money involved but no one with the skills – or will – to use it in the way it is intended, other ways are found of spending the money, and these are not always the best. Involving private business is therefore the obvious thing to do. After all, VKB, like any business, is there to make money. So it’s in its interest to make sure that many farmers like David become clients – and that they succeed. And VKB will doubtless put a great deal of time and effort into achieving this.

Committed farmers
the only way to ensure that the country’s agricultural sector – including land reform beneficiaries – is successful, is for people to realise what their responsibilities are. And this includes farmers! Farmers need to embrace land reform rather than look at it as a threat. Many have done so already and are mentoring smallholders, but even more farmers should get involved. According to Mtobeli Mxotwa, Nkwinti’s spokesperson, government has taken the RADP very seriously. So seriously that it now plans to extend the programme to include communal land farmers.