Trevor asks for tips from organised agriculture

“The voice of organised agriculture must be heard in South Africa and we must do all in our power to unlock the trapped potential of agriculture in this country.”

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This was according to Trevor Manuel, minister in the presidency and head of the National Planning Commission (NPC), who spoke recently at the Agri SA policy conference in Stellenbosch. Manuel added that the relationship of trust between the agricultural sector and government needed to be rebuilt.

Outlining the National Development Plan (NDP) published last year, he urged Agri SA and other agricultural role players to play an active role in discussions on the plan and suggest ways in which it could be improved. Referring to the theme of the conference, ‘New challenges facing agriculture’, Manuel said that he would have preferred “New opportunities in agriculture”.

According to the development plan, agriculture has the potential to create one million jobs and ensure continued food security for the country. “When we talk about food security, currently we are providing for about 50 million people. What will happen in the future when we have to provide for 59 million people, with less and less water and on limited land?” asked Manuel.

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These were some of the challenges discussed in the NDP, he said. Manuel appealed to Agri SA to help find answers to land reform. “I acknowledge this is a sensitive matter, but this compels us to address it,” he said. “We need to reconstruct trust between government and the agriculture sector. If we do not have this, we cannot expand the sector.”

After Manuel’s address, Mohammad Karaan, dean of agricultural sciences at Stellenbosch University and member of the NPC, took to the stage and gently berated the representatives of organised agriculture present for not bringing positive suggestions to the table in their engagement with Manuel.

This was in response to questions posed to the minister by delegates. These, in Karaan’s opinion, had been in the form of complaints about the difficulty experienced by organised agriculture in engaging with government and the ineffectiveness of state-driven programmes to support agriculture and implement land reform.

“I am disappointed that we still talk to esteemed ministers, such as Manuel, about the problems and not the solutions in agriculture. This is an endemic problem of agriculture. We find it easier to complain than to offer solutions,”
he said.