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Minister, panel members agree that Eastern Cape holds great agriculture potential

Eastern Cape maize farm

Eastern Cape maize farm

20th August 2021

By: Marleny Arnoldi

Deputy Editor Online

     

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Although the Eastern Cape is a major source of primary agriculture and exports in the country, it is far from living up to its true productive and job-creation potential, Nascence Advisory and Research MD Xhanti Payi said on August 20.

The consultancy hosted an Eastern Cape Agriculture Indaba, which unpacked some of the challenges that are hindering the province’s agricultural growth potential.

According to data released by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), the Eastern Cape hosts the largest percentage of the country’s livestock – 38% of its goats, 30% of its sheep and 25% of its cattle.

It is the most important province when it comes to wool and mohair production, in that it produces more than 15-million kilograms of wool a year and more than half of the world’s mohair.

The province also hosts 16% of the country’s milk producers, which account for 26% of the milk produced in South Africa.

The province also accounts for a quarter of South Africa’s citrus production and has some grain, pineapple and game farming activity as well.

Eastern Cape Rural Development and Agrarian Reform MEC Nonkqubela Pieters pointed out during the Indaba that the East London harbour remains the only one to export live animals in South Africa, and said there was an opportunity to increase exports of this nature.

She mentioned that the provincial government had long been focused on improving commodity production and corridors in the Eastern Cape. Most recently, the department had started investing in cannabis as a breakthrough commodity in the commercial space.

Pieters noted that the province’s medium-term strategy involved developing five cannabis corridors to create a value chain.

The province is collaborating with six cultivation licence owners, farmers and other stakeholders to realise development envisioned in the national Cannabis Master Plan, including training of farmers on best practice and supplying machinery and other infrastructure.

Moreover, she said Covid-19 had given the nation a wake-up call about the significance of land and the need to invest more in agriculture.

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza agreed, stating that the pandemic had forced countries to strengthen their food systems in preparing for any other disasters that may befall the planet, such as those related to climate change.

She pointed out that weather patterns in South Africa were already changing as a result of climate change; for example, snowfall in August in some parts of the country.

Over and above agriculture’s role in food security, Didiza explained how the sector was integral to the national Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan to effect economic growth and create jobs.

She said government had committed to releasing land for agricultural purposes. Most recently, 436 563 ha had been allocated, 206 675 ha of which government had issued leases for. These land parcels include those allocated to communities who have been using State land for agricultural purposes and farmers whose leases had either expired or had never existed.

Overall, the State has 9.5-million hectares of land under its custodianship, Didiza confirmed in a recent Parliamentary reply.

Additionally, her department announced earlier this year its plan to recruit 10 000 extension officers over the next three years, to assist with the development and productivity of smallholder farmers.

Didiza referred to the importance of the Agriculture and Agroprocessing Master Plan, which is in its final stages of drafting. It is being developed by different social partners in the agriculture space and is poised to provide opportunities for growth.

She mentioned that the master plan prioritises the Eastern Cape for production and job creation, including by improving operational efficiency at the East London harbour and increasing supermarkets’ procurement spend on local produce.

Moreover, South African Grain Farmers Association GM Mokete Tshiame noted that the Eastern Cape has never been adequately resourced, at least for the grain industry, to thrive.

He said a lack of infrastructure such as silos for grain storage had held back production expansion. “Our grain farmers are forced to sell immediately after harvest and therefore make them price takers in the market.”

Tshiame added that Eastern Cape-based grain farmers also struggled to access finance and often access to markets as well, owing to inadequate road infrastructure.

From a business perspective, Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa chief economist Wandile Sihlobo said the Eastern Cape would require much investment in the agroprocessing space if high-quality jobs were to be created.

In addition to the infrastructure dearth in the province, which is the case for much of South Africa, Sihlobo noted that the province had a collective herd of about nine-million cattle, but only 49% of this produce reached the formal meat value chain.

He explained that part of this could be resolved by government addressing biosecurity issues and enabling small-scale farmers to access the market.

Sihlobo believed the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga were key areas for expansion in agriculture.

The Joe Gqabi, OR Tambo and Chris Hani areas in the Eastern Cape are particularly suited for agricultural or agroprocessing development.

 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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