It’s beautiful, vast, and home to some of Mzansi’s most diverse terrains for food production. Yet, says the Eastern Cape’s provincial minister for rural development and agrarian reform, agricultural activity and productivity are very low. This needs to change.
In a blitz interview with Food For Mzansi, MEC Nonkqubela Pieters says that the province is abundantly blessed environmentally – from the arid western side’s fertile soils to the humid eastern side’s fertile and acidic soils – but that this diversity is “not always followed by equal beneficiation, as it would be expected”.
“The Eastern Cape has the highest share (19%) of South Africa’s small-scale farmers: 19%,” she adds. “Half are women and 58% [farm on] communal land. Yet agricultural activity and productivity are very low.”
She also speaks about the challenges that the rural communities of the province face, the work on her desk right now, and the vision her department has for the future.
She spoke to Tiisetso Manoko.
Some areas in the province are battling with drought. How has your department stepped up its efforts to help the farming communities most affected?
Since the commencement of the drought spell in the province, the department’s development of water storage and harvesting systems were intensified. In the same period, dam scooping and borehole drilling, and equipping for livestock and crop production has been done. This was focused in the areas that were heavily affected by drought.
The Eastern Cape has been hit the hardest by China’s recent wool import ban, considering that the province produces 25% of the national clip. What support did you give to farmers and what is the long-term future safeguard?
As short-term solution, the veterinary authority was in discussion with China and wool commodity groups to agree on measures that would allow the export of wool to China without exporting the FMD virus to them.
The immediate measures include heat treatment of the wool at specific temperatures that will denature [deactivate] the virus, a process that is performed at a facility in Gqeberha, here in the Eastern Cape.
Furthermore, locally, we need to strengthen the collaboration between the national veterinary authority, farmers, and the safety and security cluster to ban wool speculators who travel from farm to farm or village to village.
This results in poor traceability of the source of the wool and has the potential to widely spread the disease should they visit an FMD-positive farm.
How far is the province from developing its own capacity to process wool locally? Can it be fast-tracked?
The country is not ready for the eventuality of “no wool exports”. Therefore, the province needs to urgently embark on a feasibility study on recommissioning existing wool washing facilities with the aim of local value addition on wool.
[We also need] the introduction of a legally binding biosecurity declaration for each registered producer with a producer number, the exclusion of wool from the FMD-infected areas until the zone is declared free of the disease, or an acceptable wool treatment protocol is in place.
You’ve displayed a desire to address barriers to agricultural development in the province, such as poor infrastructure, land rights and service delivery. What progress can you point to that would improve your department’s credibility with farmers and agribusinesses?
The department has supported farmers, especially emerging farmers. The programmes that are being implemented seek to achieve productivity and market access. Our strategies have demonstrated success in the areas where they have been implemented:
- Grain partnerships in the grain corridors have ensured that communal farmers are getting commercial yields and have access to markets.
- Centane maize production led to the development of a commercial 15 000t maize bunker. This bunker is managed by commercial maize marketing agents.
- In the OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo regions, Ukhanyo Farmer Development farmers, with high technical support provided through partnerships, produce more than 5t/ha. This has attracted the attention of farm mechanisation manufacturers who are to develop a mechanisation financing model that is tailor-made for smallholder producers.
- The pineapple production industry was dying in the late 1990s due to the closure of the international market, and land lay fallow in the Peddie area. The partnership between government, commercial and small-scale producers led to growth in the industry locally, where processing of pineapples for processed fruit exports is now possible.
What is the vision you have for agriculture in the province and what do you want your legacy to be?
To build a growing, equitable, inclusive, competitive, job-creating, and sustainable agriculture and agro-processing sector, and to ensure that the eastern half of the province contributes meaningfully to the socio-economic situation of the province.
A need for development thus coexists with resource availability and intensive agricultural interventions, supported by irrigation. This could help reduce poverty and unemployment.
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