One of the first tasks that I set for myself when I became MEC for agriculture and rural development last year was to forge links with commercial agriculture. I was mindful of the fact that although we were playing on the same field, we were on different ends of the ground.
I did not expect an easy reception and was always pleasantly surprised at their willingness to engage with me. Those months of interactions with representatives of different agricultural commodity groups, farmers, farming associations and communities culminate in this gathering. It is the first time that we are all gathered together to work towards a common purpose – to grow the business of agriculture in KwaZulu-Natal.
Government has identified agriculture as a major driver of the economy of the country. Our goal is to fulfil the mandate of the National Development Plan (NDP) to contribute to the creation of one million jobs in the sector by 2030. We have 15 years to achieve this. The NDP and the Provincial Growth and Development Plan also calls for comprehensive rural development and food security.
In our individual sectors, we have ideas of what can be done and are aware of the obstacles and challenges standing in our way, or of what the other is doing wrong. However, working in silos gets us nowhere when our aims are the same. It is for this reason that at the heart of the new vision for agriculture and rural development in KZN is a coordinated approach. It involves an alignment with other departments – both national and provincial, as well as municipalities, local leadership, communities and commercial agriculture.
This approach calls for integrated planning with commodity associations, strategic partnerships and the promotion of agricultural development. It is based on support for emerging farmers and agricultural villages, as well as recapitalisation and post-settlement support for land reform farms.
At the core of these activities is agro-processing and running projects on firm business models. To underpin all of this, scientific research, technology development and extension services will be available. This new strategy will see us in the same team. Our goals are job creation and growing the business of agriculture in our province.
Speeding up the process
A concern that is frequently raised is that of land redistribution – the slow pace of the process, land being taken away from agriculture and the failure of post-settlement farms. On 8 January, the ANC committed to speeding up the process. President Jacob Zuma emphasised two issues – there will continue to be a balance of the national interests of land restoration, economic development and food security, and the ANC is committed to the improvement of farming as an economic activity.
Land restitution needs to be approached in terms of a win-win situation for all stakeholders. Together we can find solutions.
Let me allay fears that the new approach to agrarian reform is just another talking point. This is not just another blueprint that will gather dust. Work is being done to put the strategy into action. We’re preparing a census on the agricultural sector in KZN. I’m aware there is a time lag of some 14 years in national agricultural figures.
Further statistics reside within private research institutions and organisations, and we have not sufficiently measured the input of emerging farmers. The census will give productivity measures and guide the efficiency of the sector. Reliable data will highlight factors affecting productivity and ways to improve it. It will help us identify sources of economic growth – in other words the low-hanging fruit that we can go after.
Skilled staff are currently being employed to action the plan; care is being taken that there is a match between skills and the different facets of the strategy to be implemented. This historic gathering is the start of a process that will underpin our new vision for agricultural and rural development in KZN. – Robyn Joubert
Phone the KZN Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on 033 343 8240.
The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.