Agriculture occupies central role in SA’s new growth plan

The agriculture value chain is one of six key sectors in the government’s new growth plan recently endorsed during a special cabinet meeting.

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The new growth path aims to create 5 million jobs in 10 years, said minister in the presidency Collins Chabane. When asked how the new growth plan differed from the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), minister of economic development Ebrahim Patel said that, where the IPAP had committed to investing heavily in infrastructure, the new growth path "commits to a substantial expansion of the country’s supplier base to provide the components to the infrastructure spend programme".

It also takes agriculture, which isn’t covered by the IPAP, and "makes it a key area of focus with a number of programmes and measures that the minister of agriculture will be announcing". Patel said that the cabinet sees infrastructure playing a "catalysing role" in the new growth plan. "For example, modern agriculture requires great focus on logistics, on being able to move product to market rapidly."Bringing the rural poor into the mainstream economy also requires a significant investment in infrastructure.

"If people produce at the subsistence level and don’t have the means to link up with the national mainstream economy they remain poor and marginalised," he added. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform intends to unlock the potential of the former homelands to contribute meaningfully to the new growth plan, said the department’s minister, Gugile Nkwinti.

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"Government has created a special fund for the recapitalisation of irrigation schemes and collapsed farms that were transferred to black people."This year alone we’ve raised R900 million to this end, and we’re already working on five irrigation schemes in KwaZulu- Natal, the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, the North West and the Free State."Nkwinti also said he had met with the National African Farmers’ Union (Nafu) two weeks ago and had set up "a very good programme of action for developing subsistence farmers," only to discover he’d spoken "to the wrong guys, the wrong Nafu".

He called off all discussions until Nafu’s lawful representatives had been established. On 16 November his department would launch a strategic partnership between emerging farmers and 11 commercial farmers, said Nkwinti. "Cabinet has approved this trend of establishing partnerships between emerging farmers and commercial farmers," he noted.Chabane said the land reform programme would begin "to drive into areas where we weren’t allowed in the past."

Under the former homelands system, for example, "you wouldn’t have been able to develop big commercial farming enterprises, but now there will be a combination of small, medium and large agriculture," he said. However, the ministers didn’t say how the establishment of larger scale agricultural initiatives in these areas would be achieved, after the collapse of the Communal Land Rights Act earlier this year. This Act aimed at transferring land titles to individuals and communities of the former homelands.

Another key sector identified is the "green economy". Patel said the size of the green economy envisaged by the new growth plan would depend on "the extent of green energy mandated" and "the pricing mechanisms that will be brought into play to make it possible for solar energy and biofuels to become part of our energy mix in a big way".

The Industrial Development Corporation has been assigned responsibility to raise capital for the new growth plan. According to Patel, R12 billion has already been advanced for "driving growth in the green economy".