Pretoria: Government is pursuing a strategy of linking small producers with major retailers such as Wallmart, Pick n Pay and Spar to sell their produce directly to them, says Minister of Agriculture Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Speaking at the first African Farmers Association of South Africa annual general meeting in Pretoria on Monday, the minister said there were many opportunities for such linkages and to use the resources both in skills and infrastructure to assist each other.
“My goal … is to see smallholder farmers graduate to commercial farmers,” she said, adding that she did not want farmers to remain “emerging” or “smallholder” farmers forever.
The minister explained that the department was proud to be part of a partnership with Walmart/Massmart.
“Their programme offers the most comprehensive kind of assistance to smallholder farmers to my knowledge by a corporate company. The programme, which is being rolled out in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, will assist over 100 smallholder farmers to participate in the capacity building and market linkages. An amount of R15 million has been invested in the project to be expended over a period of three years,” she said.
Joemat-Pettersson said Massmart had committed to assisting these smallholder farmers with input finance, pack-house refurbishment, skills development and providing a market for their produce.
During a visit to Costa Rica to learn about Walmart’s direct to market model, the minister said they had learned the power of simplicity. “We realised, then, that we don’t need complicated infrastructure.
“In our South African case, I would like to encourage smallholder farmers to form co-operatives and work with commercial farmers to hone their skills. Produce can be sold as a collective to a market,” she said.
Joemat-Pettersson added that the department had established a Service Delivery Forum which brings together all stakeholders to discuss and get a chance to interact under the same roof.
South Africa has 230 000 land reform beneficiaries and emerging farmers and 35 000 commercial farmers.
The current challenges in the agriculture sector include a shrinking commercial farmer community, inadequate assistance to smallholder farmers, increasingly rising food prices and climate change.
“Some of the constraints that smallholder farmers face relate to lack of access to land, poor physical and institutional infrastructure. Most smallholder farmers are located in rural areas and mostly in the former homelands where lack of both physical and institutional infrastructure limits their expansions. Lack of access to proper roads, for example, limit the ability of a farmer to transport inputs, produce and also access information. The list is endless,” said the minister.
She said her primary goal was to develop SMMEs and to facilitate the transformation of unrepresentative sectors and industries. “The road towards fulfilling these goals been filled with stumbling blocks, but I believe we are getting there.”
Government was working hard to assist smallholder farmers become commercial farmers, to turn rural areas into commercially viable zones and to eradicate deeply entrenched poverty in rural areas through programs that will overhaul the entire social system
“We need to decisively move so our programmes translate to visible change in our communities. This is why the department has allocated tractors to seven provinces with seeds and implements. We are taking agriculture to the people. We want every family, every school, clinic and piece of land to start planting vegetable gardens”.