Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Senzeni Zokwana recently said that there was a gross imbalance between the rapidly increasing population and the number of people producing food.
He said: “Research shows an enormous decline in the number of South Africa’s commercial farmers since 1994. This decrease is mainly due to consolidation and the ongoing land reform processes. The few commercial farmers in the country still carry the responsibility of feeding a population of more than 50-million people.”
The Minister was addressing staff and students of the Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute and the Fort Cox College of Agriculture. He very correctly pointed out that the country needed to produce more farmers, stressing that these people must run farms, and not just look for work on farms.
Of course, any young graduate in any subject must not expect to be the boss overnight. But aspiring bosses should have that dream as they start work. What they need to do is to exhibit a sense of responsibility to whoever their first bosses are.
Time and again, I point out that proper education consists of two important elements: learning the knowledge material on the course and learning how to ‘really do it and implement it’. Part of this second function is learning responsibility, learning to be on time, learning to be well ordered, etcetera.
Some of these attributes are picked up at a tertiary institution by being a member of a student organisation or by playing sport as part of a team and being responsible for yourself. They are not acquired by guys who burn cars, smash windows and demand student loans for everything from tuition to accommodation, food and free WiFi.
The Minister also said that he envisaged establishing 600 cooperatives that would participate in the One Cooperative, One Hectare programme. At that point, I got a bit lost: “one cooperative, one hectare”? Is a cooperative only one hectare? No doubt, it means a coope- rative of many hectares where each member owns one hectare.
I entirely disagree with that concept. There have been numerous calls to give people ‘land’ and there has been a call for one hectare per person. That is unreasonable. Each ‘owner’ will want a house on his or her hectare. So, you will need roads to each hectare, electricity to each hectare, water supply, etcetera. That is not commercial farming. The only way that ‘cooperatives’ will work is for there to be a system of shareholding whereby a number of people can each own a share in a larger farm. People will not own the land; the farming company will, and shareholders can sell their shares whenever they wish.
But let us return to considering the farming. South Africa has such a wonderful climate and so much land of all types that I imagine that virtually any crop that you can think of can be grown here, somewhere. Some may need large tracts of land to grow crops such as maize but others can be on very small pieces of land, growing crops such as tomatoes.
To my mind, in each case, the agriculture must be carried out scientifically. That is where those agriculture colleges come into the picture. Gone are the days when a farmer just sowed his grain crop in a primitive manner and then waited for Mother Nature to do everything until harvest time. Back then, you either got a good harvest or a bad one, depending on luck.
Today, scientific farming a requires knowledge of fertilisers, of pesticides, of how to measure the pH of soils and of a host of other things. A farmer now should go to work every day, like an office worker, and not just sit on the stoep with a cup of coffee, watching the plants grow.
So, I agree with the Minister – we need to produce more college-educated farmers who can become junior farm managers. They can then learn from an experienced farm boss and move on to become senior farm managers and then, perhaps, become owners. At this point, they will employ junior farm managers, and so continue the cycle.
With the correct technology additions, we should be able to grow virtually anything in South Africa.