The national chairperson of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa, Neo Masithela, has made a plea to the deciduous fruit industry to ensure that its promising talk about transformation is not just lip service.
Speaking at a recent awards ceremony hosted by the Deciduous Fruit Development Chamber of South Africa, Masithela said there was an urgent need to transform an industry of which black people represent only 10%. But this transformation should not be done in isolation and should involve the entire value chain.
“What do we do to realise an inclusive agriculture? Working together will enable us to achieve a transformed sector. We should not work against each other or even point fingers at each other. We need to work towards inclusivity and growth. It is impossible to achieve reconciliation without transformation. They are twins; they go together.”
South Africa’s deciduous fruit industry consists of about 1 140 stone and pome fruit producers who contribute to a total turnover of R14 billion every year. About 43% of the country’s total production is exported.
During the recent event, delegates from across the country spoke on the importance of transformation for the industry to grow and to create long-term jobs, especially in rural provinces.
Masithela said agriculture was the pillar of the South African economy and all role players had a critical part to play, adding that the country’s historical past should motivate everyone in the sector towards working for an industry that does not make “who you are” a requisite to succeed.
Important to celebrate progress
“Even though there is only 10% black people in the industry, we must applaud people who started this process,” Masithela added. “It is important to start so that you [are] able to move.”
He also emphasised that black people being part of the industry does not mean they are being done any favours. They belong.
“Commodities… are the best vehicles to take us to the agricultural inclusivity that we want to see in our country. Pointing fingers and calling each other names will not help us to achieve what we want. What we need to understand is that agriculture is important for the economy of this country.”
Black Business Council president Elias Monage agreed that the time for transformation talk was over: it is now time to implement it.
He felt that the rest of Africa posed a particularly promising opportunity and that, with the African free trade agreement in place, it was time for the industry to zoom into creating business across continent.
“Yes indeed, 28 years into democracy we need to address the issue of transformation. However, we also need to do that with speed so that opportunities do not pass us by.”
“Transformation in this sector requires leadership because it is not an easy task to tackle. It really needs sober leadership to deal with it,” he said.
Down to provincial level
Meanwhile, Gauteng agri MEC Parks Tau said their provincial government was working around the clock to ensure that the province’s agriculture master plan was inclusive of related industries that could create jobs.
Western Cape agri MEC Dr Ivan Meyer said he was willing to work with other provinces to ensure that the knowledge and skills they have gathered are shared with others, with a key focus on achieving transformation.
Meyer said his province prides itself in being the hub of the deciduous fruit industry, which was injecting millions to the economy and creating jobs for the people of the province, especially young people and women.
“We are here to celebrate the fruit of your labour. We want to appreciate you for the work that you have done,” he said.
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