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Date: 03 May 2012
Title: Agriculture turns corner with 3% jobs growth
Cape Town - Smallholder farmers turning once fallow land in the former homelands into farmland have propelled the agricultural sector which has seen a three percent growth in jobs - overcoming years of decline.
This is according to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson, who was briefing media in Cape Town on Thursday ahead of her Budget Vote in Parliament.
The minister said since 1970 the sector had been losing over 50 000 jobs per quarter, but that in the last two quarters of 2011 the sector had added 25 000 and 6 000 jobs respectively.
This had helped the number of jobs in the sector to grow by three percent over 2010, so that the sector now employs 630 000 people.
"Our objective to create jobs in agriculture is paramount in this country," said Joemat-Pettersson, who pointed out that the three percent growth in jobs had come despite the loss last year of 20 000 jobs in the ostrich farming sector.
Most of the jobs had been created by farmers putting some of the nearly three million hectares of land that lies fallow in the former homelands, back into production.
Joemat-Pettersson said the development of new smallholder farmers by the government had been key to creating jobs, as traditional commercial farmers had been in decline.
"Getting black farmers or smallholder farmers back into production has been costly, but it is beginning to show success," she said.
The department also had a better relationship with agricultural unions, such as the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) which was now providing support to smallholder farmers.
"What we need is support, instead of just complaints and negative criticism," she said, commending TAU for their support initiatives.
She said added to this more opportunities would be created for smallholder farmers through preferential procurement.
The department will also be visiting Costa Rica to study Walmart's direct-to-farm programme to gain lessons on how retailers in South Africa can procure from smallholder farmers.
Various forums have been launched by the department which give businesses and farmers the opportunity to make inputs and partner with the government.
The R10 billion in agriculture imports signalled that there were opportunities for South Africans in the manufacture of processed agricultural goods, said Joemat-Pettersson.
She said a R150 million AgriBEE Equity Fund, to be managed by the Land Bank, would help entrepreneurs buy equity stakes in commercial agricultural businesses and would also fund quality enterprise development initiatives - where new farmers are mentored by established farmers.
The department is presently carrying out road shows to gather public comments, following the gazetting of the AgriBEE charter in March. This week road shows are taking place in Limpopo and the North West, said the minister.
However, she said more work needed to be done to increase access to finance for the sector, adding that funding was available to farmers and manufacturers in agro-processing from the Land Bank, the department's own budget and the Department of Trade and Industry.
Meanwhile, over the past five years, between 2006 and 2011, agricultural exports to the Asian region had grown from R1.4 billion to over R4 billion.
Joemat-Pettersson said South Africa's traditional trading partners in the EU and US would in the future become less significant as new opportunities are being explored in faster growing regions such as the Middle East, Russia and Asia.
The share of South Africa's exports to China - including Hong Kong has grown from three percent of all agricultural exports in 2001 to six percent last year.
Exports to mainland China have remained steady over the past two years - at about R2.1 billion.
The biggest increases in the share of SA's agricultural exports had come from Mexico - which had no share of exports in 2001 to a share of five percent of exports last year - and Zimbabwe, from two to eight percent.
Other markets which have grown in their share of SA agricultural exports over the same period are South Korea - from two to three percent - and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), from one to three percent.
South Africa also has positive trade balances in agricultural, forestry and fisheries products with Russia to the tune of R1.1 billion, with former Soviet Union states, including Russia, to the tune of R80 million and with India in forestry products of R350 million.
With the threat of climate change and livestock diseases, the department has increased its funding for agricultural research, which will now come to R935 million. It was also continue to set aside funds for disaster relief - keeping them in a ring-fenced fund to hedge against the risk of any future agricultural diseases.
Joemat-Pettersson said the sector had in the past year been hit by floods and animal diseases - such as Rift Valley disease, African Horse Sickness and African Swine Fever, which had been serious challenges to the country's agriculture sector. - BuaNews