Access to water, job creation, trade opportunities and agricultural transformation were some of the key points discussed during day one of the third AFASA Agri-business Transformation Conference at Imvelo Safari, Bloemfontein today.
Guest speakers included billionaire businessman Dr Patrice Motsepe, deputy ministers David Mahlobo and Mcebisi Skwatsha and several successful farmers from all corners of Mzansi.
Mahlobo, the deputy minister in the department of water and sanitation, addressed water challenges for land and agrarian reform, while Skwatsha, deputy minister in the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, highlighted government’s role in creating and enabling an environment for agricultural transformation in the country.
According to Skwatsha, organisations such as AFASA don’t only play a critical role in fighting the triple challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty, but also in transforming the agricultural industry. “Your success [AFASA] is our success,” he added.
Skwatsha believes agrarian reform is an obligation that should mirror the new South Africa.
“We have taken a conscious decision to promote and facilitate access to the groups that were previously discriminated and deliberately left out of the economic mainstream.”
He also referred to expropriation of land without compensation. “Generations after us must say: ‘They, and with that they mean us, were able to put the building blocks in place of a country that will live in peace forever. Where black and white can feel it is theirs and theirs for generations to come.’”
According to Mahlobo, the agricultural sector is the backbone of any economy, as it provides basic ingredients to humanity. During his address he emphasised that land can only be allocated to beneficiaries with available water. He further highlighted the need for agricultural research bodies like the Agricultural Research Council to support farmers with research and data to ensure their water is used efficiently.
“Without water there is no life. Climate change is not coming, climate change has arrived and it is threatening our farmers. We must start looking at climate resistant strategies for farmers to survive.”
A number of AFASA member farmers shared their success stories at the conference, including Western Cape citrus farmer Wayne Mansfield, who started farming on leased land that hadn’t produced lemons in eight years. In little more than two years Mansfield was able to produce enough quality lemons to export 163 tonnes.
The dynamic farmer called on government to offer black farmers much-needed training. “I believe training will play a key role for us to better manage our farms in terms of financial and operations management,” Mansfield says.
Lindiwe Hlubi, a sugarcane farmer in KwaZulu-Natal and speaker at the conference, says that she was inspired many years ago by the passion of an older female farmer. “The biggest barrier for women (in agriculture) is to think they cannot have it all,” she said.
According to Hlubi, who also is the deputy chair of the South African Farmers’ Development Association (SAFDA) and the South African Sugar Association (SASA), she considers it her duty to help more women succeed in agriculture.