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Nampo 2017: Developing small-scale black farmers

Land reform should seek to preserve current commercial farming community, develop black farmers – Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana.

SIKI MGABADELI:  We are focusing now on Grain South Africa’s Nampo Harvest Day, speaking to Senzeni Zokwana, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries. Nampo Harvest Day is one of the largest agricultural exhibitions under private ownership in the southern hemisphere, and it takes place annually. Delegates there are looking at some of the main issues facing the agricultural sector in South Africa.

Let’s welcome the minister. Minister, thanks so much for your time today. I think we all know that this is a sector that’s just coming out of one of the worst droughts in recent memory. So, I imagine that a gathering of this nature is important to take stock.

SENZENI ZOKWANA:  It is very important to take stock, as well as to do networking and look at new inventions in terms of machinery, which serve to improve productivity.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Now, one of the big talking points at the moment is economic transformation. This is one of those sectors that people, when they think transformation, think land and then they think land reform, and so on. If we look at the issue of land reform, can there be economic transformation in the agricultural sector without that big question being dealt with?

SENZENI ZOKWANA:  There can be, yes, if we look at how we make sure that the current commercial farmers, or farmers who received land from government, we try to to make sure that we create a vehicle that assists them to be able to produce commercially and be able to grow their farming practices.

But of course land transformation, given the history of South Africa, would always remain a topic and is one area we cannot run away from. But I think it is the way we present it.

We should present it in a way that seeks to preserve the current commercial farming community, which produces the bulk of our food, and get black farmers to a level where they can become commercial farmers very soon.

This will require a number of programmes to ensure that these farmers have access to funding, mentoring… programmes that assist with training – training is key as it plays a role in either success or failure.

SIKI MGABADELI:  How are you bringing white commercial farmers together with the emerging black farming class in South Africa today?

SENZENI ZOKWANA:  We do have programmes that are running, although what we need to work on is how do we increase those programmes, where commercial farmers, as investors, have been investing in land that is available, partnering with black small-scale farmers, programmes that are run to train and empower. We need to work around those programmes [such as those with Grain SA] because they have shown success. I met with farmers who have been groomed by white farmers and who are now commercial and they didn’t believe that they could have succeeded.

SIKI MGABADELI:  How many have been empowered through these programmes?

SENZENI ZOKWANA:  The programme that we have for the department is about 430 000 farmers. But of this programme, there are 268 [farmers] who are being trained by Grain SA, but of course funding at all times remains one of the sticky points that we need to deal with.

SIKI MGABADELI:  And who is doing the funding? How much are you contributing and how much is the sector contributing?

SENZENI ZOKWANA:  As a department we’ve distributed about R2.1 billion to provinces as grants. Unfortunately, it does not really go to grooming small-scale farmers, it goes to the programmes that provinces have designed.

What we need is to engage the ministry of finance, to look at guarantees that can be made so that commercial farmers can invest within agriculture. A small-scale farmer or a subsistence farmer won’t be able to give a guarantor a collateral so that he or she can get a loan from a bank. So we need a vehicle that can assist those farmers.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Minister, there are massive concerns about the future of the industry – anecdotal evidence, speaking to young people who have studied agriculture or aspects of it, saying that they don’t see a future for themselves, that they are not getting jobs, and so on. What are you doing about that?

SENZENI ZOKWANA:  It’s an issue, I agree with you. By the way, I visited two training colleges this month and that is the view. But we are trying to do our best to make sure that as we create or get farms that land reform gives out, we need to deploy these unemployed graduates because the future of those graduates is not on being employed by government in my view, but more in creating a new class of entrepreneurs who have done agriculture at school, who will be able to hit the ground running, after being given the resources to do so. Even at this meeting, part of the debate was to say, how do we make sure that as we grow agriculture as a sector there is also an area that deals with unemployed graduates? 

SIKI MGABADELI:  We’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time. Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana.

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