Agriculture minister Lulama Xingwana resolved to launch a campaign to mobilise farmers to plant more wheat in SA at the recent AgriBEE Showcasing in Cape Town. She also pledged her department’s support to establish co-ops and bakeries in rural areas to help make food more affordable and accessible to rural communities. Dr Kobus Laubscher, general manager of Grain SA, said that a multi-dimensional approach would be needed to motivate wheat farmers to increase production, and that even then change will not happen over night.
“Farmers need to receive prices that reflect the high quality of their produce and need to be assured that these prices would remain profitable in the long run. There must be some form of protection against the dumping of cheap wheat in SA,” he said. In addition to this, government would have to help with research and development. “ There is currently no incentive for organisations to develop new seed cultivars and this has led to Monsanto withdrawing its wheat development programme. SA farmers need new wheat cultivars. We are falling behind other countries in terms of the development of new technologies to enhance wheat production and profitability,” Laubscher said. T he minister blamed biofuels for the sharp increase in staple foods such as wheat and maize, and emphasised that this is why the department decided not to include maize as feedstock for biofuel.
Dr Laubscher said it is not the intention of Grain SA to compromise food security, but he pointed out that developing a new market through biofuel could actually help to alleviate market fluctuations. “Maize production is price sensitive. Once prices fall, farmers are quick to reduce hectares. This phenomenon might not be that strong if there is another market opportunity,” Laubscher said. Xingwana also voiced her concern over the lack of interest among the youth in agriculture. “There will be no food on the table in SA if young people are not trained and groomed in the agricultural industry,” she said, adding that the average age of farmers in is 55. “We have to lure our youth back to the lands, we have to show them that agriculture is not only about working hard in the sun and mud, but that there are more sexy options in the sector – such as making cheese, ice-cream, wine, beer or whiskey,” Xingwana said. – Glenneis Erasmus