Pretoria– Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says concerted action must be taken to speed up reforms in the agriculture sector so that more marginalised people can be brought into the mainstream economy.
“It is productivity growth in agriculture that provides the food supply to meet the demands of urban growth and transformation, and releases labour to other sectors of the economy such as manufacturing and services.
“Inclusive rural transformation is, in turn, influenced and shaped by the growth and diversification of the demand for food supply and raw materials from the urban economy,” the Deputy President said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Witzenberg Partners in Agri Land Solutions (PALS) annual general meeting in the Western Cape, Deputy President Ramaphosa warned that the diversity and scale of the food system remains vulnerable for as long as the majority of black farm workers remain at the periphery of commercial farming and the larger economy.
If the momentum for inclusive rural transformation is to be sustained, the Deputy President said, agriculture must evolve and modernise.
“Smallholder producers and rural small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) must be supported to make the transition to greater specialisation and diversification in production and trade.
“We need to develop agro-processing and facilitate access to markets for emerging farmers,” Deputy President Ramaphosa said.
Agrarian reform to benefit women and youth
He said unequal access to productive resources and inadequate access to financial support must be dealt with, if the economy is to be transformed, especially to the advantage of women.
“To advance women equality, we must do more to support independent black women farmers and women-led cooperatives.”
The Deputy President said agriculture is an important lever to reduce youth unemployment.
“We carry the responsibility to promote farming as an attractive, rewarding and viable enterprise for our youth. We need to harness their energy and ignite the imagination of young people to be a seed that will spawn new agricultural industries.”
Skills transfer and supporting emerging farmers must go hand in hand with investment in research and technological innovation, Deputy President Ramaphosa said.
“It means taking interest and getting involved in curricula development at our agriculture colleges and universities… It means establishing bursaries and internships to nurture young black talent in farming and enterprise development.”
Land reform and transformation
The Deputy President said meaningful change to truly empower black farmers requires collaboration between established farmers, emerging black farmers, farmworkers, government and labour.
To successfully advance transformation, he said, it is important initiatives like PALS take on board the interests, concerns and suggestions of broader community.
“We need to build consensus around land reform and transformation. Initiatives like PALS need to be inclusive, transparent and accountable. We must always bear in mind that we are dealing with a national asset in which all South Africans have a stake.
“The land ultimately belongs to the people of South Africa, and it is the people of South Africa, collectively, who must determine how it can be best used to advance their common interests. The work of PALS will be successful only if it is located within the broader challenges facing the agricultural sector and the broader challenges affecting the community,” Deputy President Ramaphosa said.
Increasing black participation
The Deputy President urged PALS members to look at measures to effectively increase the participation of blacks in upstream and downstream agricultural activities.
“How do we work together to meaningfully reduce the concentration of ownership, promote healthy competition and reduce the barriers to entry for small scale black farmers? How do we ensure that emerging independent black farmers are supported and that they are able to be viable businesses?
“How do we work together to ensure equitable access to water rights, consistent with our determination to ensure that development and transformation are prioritised? How do we work together to combat evictions and the abuse and exploitation of farm workers? These are issues which I urge the members of PALS to grapple with.”