Stakeholders in the agriculture sector welcomed the amalgamation of the Ministry of Agriculture with the Ministry of Rural Development, as well as the newly appointed minister.
On Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Thoko Didiza would serve as the minister of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.
Didiza previously held the same position under former president Thabo Mbeki. Didiza will be assisted by two deputy ministers, namely Sdumo Dlamini and Mcebisi Skwatsha.
Dan Kriek, president of Agri SA, said that the organisation looked forward to working with Didiza on issues such as disease control, insurance, the establishment of an agricultural development fund in partnership with the private sector, and productive drought and disaster mitigation measures.
“Plant and animal diseases are regularly occurring. Capacity at Onderstepoort and within the department to deal with diseases needs to improve radically. Agricultural research has also been on the decline. There is a skills shortage that needs to be addressed.”
He also hoped to see more proactive assistance for producers in times of drought and other disasters.
“Our emerging farmers are the worst hit and cannot afford insurance.”
According to Prof Ruth Hall, a researcher at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape, Didiza has a strong track-record and good knowledge of the agriculture sector.
Hall welcomed the merger of the two departments, saying that the long-standing difficulty to align policy and implementation between the departments had bedevilled land reform.
“The attempt to closely align these functions is a step in the right direction. However, it remains to be seen how this will be done.”
Hall said that Didiza would have several challenges to address. She added that the issues of land re-distribution and expropriation without compensation needed immediate attention.
Dr John Purchase, CEO of Agbiz, also welcomed the amalgamation of the departments, as well as the appointment of Didiza.
“[Her experience in and knowledge of] agriculture and land reform will certainly stand her in good stead, and Agbiz looks forward to again work with her to grow the sector inclusively and dynamically.”
Bennie van Zyl, general manager of TAU SA, told Farmer’s Weekly that the organisation looked forward to working with Didiza.
“She is knowledgeable, balanced, and one [can] talk to her. Our dilemma, however, is the fact that she inherits a land affairs department where there are many questions about corruption.”
He further added that Didiza needed to focus on economic growth and the role agriculture played in achieving this growth.
“[She] must put agriculture first. This is probably one of the most important departments, as it puts food on the table. If it is no longer there, all the rest will go down the drain. We need to save South Africa by saving agriculture.”
Molefe Mokoene, CEO of the National African Farmers’ Union of South Africa, said that the union hoped that Didiza would bring stability to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, and the sector as a whole.
“She understands the agriculture sector and has stayed very close to the land reform debate in our country. It is with great expectation that we look forward to her tenure as minister.”
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