A lack of will

The agricultural sector continues its decline – in value and employment terms.

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Recent statistics showed that the sector shrank every quarter of last year. Employment (on a like-for-like basis) in commercial agriculture declined from 764 000 jobs three years ago to 630 000 jobs in the last quarter. Agricultural output – or services and products generated by the sector – declined by 0,4% for 2011.

In the government’s National Development Plan, agriculture is a cornerstone to create a significant number of jobs by 2030. This development target will, if current trends are anything to go by, not be reached, and this failure will mainly be attributable to a lack of political will.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is rudderless, with its three main actors reportedly not seeing eye to eye. The department is in a state of limbo. And this is reflected in the state of agriculture. Nothing is happening. Rather, the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, has been busy explaining hotel bills and expensive chartered flights.

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We need a strong political head of agriculture who can confidently steer the sector through the next couple of years while land reform is intensified. We need a minister who will ensure the sector grows – in terms of output and employment – while the target for land transfer is reached.

A name like Salam Abram, ANC MP who sat on Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, pops to mind.