Pretoria: Smallholder farmers need support in order to be able to compete on a level playing field with their commercial counterparts, says Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Speaking at the national smallholder congress organised by AgriMega Group in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape, the minister said smallholder farmers had a crucial role to play in assisting the country to eradicate the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
“Smallholder farmers require support in order to reach the status of commercial farmers, so they too can assist us in feeding the millions of people in need of food. My ultimate goal is to see smallholder farmers graduate to become fully fledged commercial farmers.
“I would like a situation where smallholder farmers are trained and prepared for export readiness through rigorous training on packaging and quality control by those already in business,” she said.
Joemat-Pettersson said she was aware that many commercial farmers already mentored and trained smallholder farmers in various techniques on farming.
“This is a positive development and must be encouraged. However, I call on more farmers to also impart their skills to grow this market and to further professionalise it. We still have a long way to go to break this vicious cycle but our efforts are not in vain.”
The minister said while the country was food secure, millions of households starved each day because of a lack of access to food.
Statistics reveal that 20% of South African households have inadequate or severely inadequate access to food. This translates to 2.8 million households or 11 million people deemed food insecure.
“A further 14.4 million South Africans are vulnerable to food insecurity. In spite of strong government, corporate and civil society commitment to addressing development issues, there are signs of increasing food insecurity in rural and urban areas.
“Of course these signs are not isolated but are related to rising unemployment, food price increases, HIV and Aids, adverse environmental conditions, a demise in agricultural support and poverty in general,” she said.
The minister was impressed by the Walmart/Massmart intervention in Limpopo, whereby 20 farmers will be assisted with infrastructure and transport needs and most importantly, market access. The goal is to increase this to 50 farmers.
The direct farm model used in this project removes the middle man, resulting in shops buying their fresh produce directly from the farmer at an agreed upon fee.
Joemat-Pettersson also announced that the financial sector had also thrown its weight behind agriculture.
She said the Land Bank and the African Development Bank have entered into a R1 billion funding agreement to help emerging and commercial farmers acquire finance.
“This is a very bold move that signals confidence in the agriculture sector. Our biggest goal is to ensure that the poor are not left wanting and hungry when we can use surplus from our harvest instead of destroying it,” she said.