Minister Joemat-Pettersson's address at AFASA's inuagural AGM

Programme Director, 

President of AFASA, Mr Mike Mlengana
Pastor Ray McCauley
International and Local Agricultural Unions, and distinguished guests,
The entire membership of AFASA

Please accept my warm and humble greetings!

Last week we marked two very important events in the global agriculture calendar. On the 15th we marked the International Day for Rural Women, and the following day, on the 16th, we commemorated World Food Day under the theme, Cooperatives – key to feeding the world. I am honoured to be here to celebrate the 2012 AFASA Congress.

I would like to start off by saying AFASA has played a key role in representing the views of smallholder farmers. In my numerous discussions with Mr Mike Mlengana and other AFASA representatives, I have been impressed by the passion with which they have constantly demonstrated to assist the government, and especially our department, to deliver the best services to smallholder farmers. In the two years that I have been the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, I have learned a lot from these discussions and have an appreciation for the work that the association has dedicated towards giving a united voice to smallholder farmers.

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.

The primary goal of my tenureship as the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is to develop SMMEs and to facilitate the transformation of unrepresentative sectors and industries within my portfolio. The road towards fulfilling these goals been filled with stumbling blocks, but I believe we are getting there. Our government is working extremely hard to assist smallholder farmers to become commercial farmers. We are working very hard to turn rural areas into commercially viable zones. We are trying 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.

Ladies and gentlemen, we don’t want our farmers to remain ‘emerging’ or ‘smallholder’ farmers forever. We need them to take part in the economy of our country, to take part in export businesses and to also make money just like commercial farmers. We need to develop an agribusiness sector to create more employment for our citizens. We need not restrict ourselves in our thinking. We need to be creative and take small risks.

When I said we should move fisheries inland people were not supportive. However, there are many opportunities for inland fishing in our country. The industry is virtually non-existent yet in the rest of the continent communities have established inland fishing opportunities and a source of protein.

Three key assistance measures are needed for smallholder farmers: access to finance, access to skills and access to markets.

What do I mean by access to skills, access to markets and access to finance? In the past, South Africa’s commercial farmers received financial assistance through government subsidies. With finances available, the farmers could focus their energies on advancing their farming skills. This paved the way for competitiveness and focusing on entrenching South Africa’s place as one of the key countries for agriculture.

Today, smallholder farmers and commercial farmers do not enjoy the same kind of protection that they did before. In fact, we are now facing a situation where have to appeal to banks to assist farmers in getting the financial backing that they require so they can run their businesses efficiently.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has tried to facilitate the kind of assistance that will address access to finance, access to skills and access to markets. The Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme is still available to all emerging farmers for infrastructural development. The Land Bank, with whom we enjoy a good and fruitful relationship, has been instrumental in providing assistance to smallholder farmers at competitive rates. There is still a big gap in access to finance for smallholder farmers.

We have appealed to young people to take up farming as a career and for business opportunities. We need to make the sector attractive to start ups so that we can diversity it, if not to create employment then for food security. We simply can’t only rely on commercial farmers to feed a country of 50 million people and still provide to the export market. If we continue in this manner we will be making ourselves vulnerable to outside factors like the drought in the United States of America has taught us.

DAFF is pursuing a strategy of linking small producers to sell their produce directly to the major retailers such as Wallmart, Pick n Pay, Spar and other retailers.
We are 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 a hundred 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. Massmart has committed to assisting these smallholder farmers with input finance, pack-house refurbishment, skills development and providing a market for their produce. When we visited Costa Rica to learn about Walmart’s direct to market model, we learned the power of simplicity. We realized, 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. There are many opportunities for linkages and to use the resources both in skills and infrastructure to assist each other. My goal, and I hope we all share in the same vision, is to see smallholder farmers graduate to commercial farmers.
Ladies and gentlemen, DAFF established a Service Delivery Forum that brings all stakeholders together to discuss and get a chance to interact under the same roof. This is also an opportunity for me to meet the stakeholders and link them with officials in the Department. I would encourage you to attend these engagements.
I would also like to report back on the Integrated Development Strategy (IGDP) 2031. The Draft Integrated Growth and Development Plan will be tabled in Cabinet for consideration and approval.

We view our strategic alliance with AFASA as a partnership that has the potential to produce specific outcomes that are clear, realistic and achievable. To conclude, I wish to challenge AFASA to continue to mobilise and organize farmers so that they have a shared vision.
Together we can do more, together we can deliver more food for our people!

Thank you.