Co-operation: key to success

Agriculture holds promise – provided that all ages and races are brought into the sector. Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told the Agri SA Congress that co-operation was vital for sustainability and stability.

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There is much about farming that goes beyond economics – the emotional ties to the land, the love of seeing plants grow – but in the end, agriculture is a business activity, and has to be managed as such. The New Growth Path has identified the sector as an area with potential for growth and employment. It is my hope as minister that, together with your constituency, we can indeed make this a preferred sector.

We are told that although the contribution of agriculture to GDP is just below 3%, the total contribution, including that of agriculture-dependent industries, is about 23%. This makes it a cornerstone of the economy.

The recently published Agricultural Outlook for 2012-2021 by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation identifies price volatility as a major threat, but notes that markets have been less turbulent in 2012. The report forecasts higher prices over the next decade, but also sees the threat of rising energy costs across the world.

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Growth in worldwide agricultural production is expected to increase at 1,7% per annum, depending on sustainability in our farming practices. The developing world should see the highest increase in production, and emerging economies will capture an increasing share of the expanding world trade in agriculture.

Regrettably, this economic activity has not translated automatically into jobs, and we have seen a gradual decline in employment over the past decade. Small gains in the recent past have been largely seasonal and regionalised. South Africa’s agricultural sector is shrinking. A low number of new entrants have created an ageing population of farmers and the few remaining face the challenges of unstable weather patterns and unpredictable food prices.

We must begin to involve more and younger people in agriculture to ensure the future of the sector. We should also assist them to ensure that they will be successful entrepreneurs. We as government have invested a large amount in agriculture and spent large sums in the re-capitalisation of our agricultural colleges.

Positive message
Farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs should be positive about what they are doing. Negative messages can do enormous harm by discouraging participation in the sector – youngsters are very good at reading the signals when choosing their careers! We need to advocate participation in the many aspects of agriculture, get the brightest and best students to take up positions on farms and agro-processing plants, and support them as they learn the job. Farming is tough, but we shouldn’t let this put our sons and daughters off.

The profile of our sector will and must change! Such change will not happen accidentally, though; it will be the result of a decisive intervention by both the state and influential organisations such as Agri SA which are both committed to ensure that the race, age and gender dynamics of our country is reflected in our sector.

Food security
Worries about food security and the price of food have made headlines in recent times. An analysis of food costs reveals that we also need to manage the food value chain better to reduce wastage and post-production costs. I urge farmers, wherever possible, to arrange for surplus or spoiled produce that is still good for consumption to be taken to local schools, community centres or food banks.

We cannot stand by and watch food being wasted while people on our doorsteps die of hunger. If assistance is needed for collection and distribution, I will arrange with FoodbankSA to see what can be done. With regard to food wastage, I’m aware that many smaller farmers lack transport and storage facilities, and as a result good food is lost. I need to be alerted to areas of need, so that we can assist in providing and securing more of these facilities.

The goal and mandate of my ministry is to develop and nurture small farmers, small producers and small agribusinesses, while also giving support to bigger enterprises. Large commercial farmers are the lifeblood of this country. This 6% of our farmers produce 95% of the food that reaches the market.

But let us not neglect the contribution of the 24 000 smaller commercial farmers who supply local and informal markets, the 35 000 emerging farmers on communal land, and the 1,26 million subsistence farmers who feed themselves and their extended families. We must support and expand all forms of food production and sales. 

The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.