Structural constraints affecting the agriculture industry during and after the covid-19 pandemic will be addressed, said Thoko Didiza, minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, during an online summit on agriculture prospects and opportunities last night.
The summit, presented by advisory and research firm Nascence and ABSA, featured prominent voices in the sector including young agri-players. All the speakers were in agreement that South Africa’s agricultural sector is resilient, but fragmented and needs to address the industry barriers young and female farmers run into.
Weaknesses and constraints, amidst sector’s resilience
Didiza said, “The South African agricultural sector has proved its resilience during this current period (of nation-wide lockdown), particularly to external shocks.”
Although the sector showed resilience, she stated that her department has taken note of the weaknesses in the country’s food system, particularly in logistics and also the affordability of food.
Didiza said although there can’t be talks about post-covid-19 if there’s no indication when it will end, “these are challenges in my view that require us to unlock in order to be able to have new growth paths in this sector during and post the pandemic.”
Among the challenges Didiza mentioned are the large numbers of small-scale farmers in the country, the climate, markets and agri-infrastructure decay. She also mentioned biosecurity issues, rising input costs, unfair access to water, land, seeds and fertilizers and high entry barriers for emerging farmers, particularly young people and women.
Didiza said that her department intends to expand land ownership through an effective land reform programme.
“It is important that as South Africans we actually find common ground and appreciate that there is a need for equity in land ownership in our country. We can do this without it causing tension, but I think it’s one of those legacies of our past that require all South Africans to address,” Didiza explained.
SA agriculture ‘can bank on EU as growth partner’
Fellow panelist Ariane Labat, who is the head of agriculture in the European Union (EU) delegation to South Africa, said the covid-19 pandemic had been a tragedy of extended proportions.
Labat echoed the resilience of the agricultural sector and said the EU and South Africa must join forces to unlock further growth in the sector. According to Labat this is important to the EU because of their strategic partnership with South Africa. South Africa is the EU’s first and largest trading partner in Africa.
According to Labat approximately half a million jobs in South Africa are directly dependent on exports to the EU. She is happy that the Mzansi’s agri-sector is taking incredible advantage of the county’s trade opportunities with Europe.
“The sector is transforming, and disadvantaged people are getting an opportunity to create businesses and export. You (SA agriculture) can really bank on the EU to be your partner in that growth. You have a lot of potential and we want to grow that potential,” she stated.
Supporting new farmers should not be charity
Agri-tech entrepreneur and founder of Khula, Karidas Tshintsholo, in his turn said government’s decision to shut down the whole restaurant market had a massive impact on small-scale farmers. He said it left many farmers who were supplying into the restaurant market in limbo. They had to re-route supply into supermarkets.
He said emerging farmers took the hardest knock in the crisis. He believes going forward thought needs to be placed on how sustainable access to markets and inputs can be provided.
“We need to build up emerging black farmers to a point where they have a commercial value proportion that makes sense for buyers that they are supplying into.
“It doesn’t help if we are positioning emerging black farmers from the perspective of ‘help the poor, save the needy’. We need to focus on getting the farmers ready to supply into markets regularly and consistently.”
Tshintsholo believes that this can be achieved by having a demand driven approach and looking at how emerging farmers are being supported with things like certification and water rights.
He said part of why we are witnessing slow movement in the industry is because the industry is working in silos.
“The demand is saying one thing and supply is saying another. We need to work in an integrated approach for us to be able to have long-term sustainable solutions,” Tshintsholo said.
The support is there, but it’s just not accessible
Agripreneur and managing director of GrowthShoot, Nono Sekhoto, said that agriculture has been difficult to work in due to absent structural support.
“I do believe that there’s a lot of finance available and allocated through agriculture, but it’s just not transparent enough and accessible enough for everybody to have access to,” she said.
Being part of a farmers’ association (like the African Farmers Association of South Africa,
Afasa), Sekhoto believes that she is not the only one experiencing these challenges.
“We do turn to organisations such as Afasa, but we find that the support even outside Afasa is just not well structured to make those promises that we hear come to life. That has probably been the hardest thing about being in agriculture – knowing that there is support for all farmers, but it’s just not accessible.”