Eastern Cape rich with chances to offer food security, says MEC
The Eastern Cape “needs to develop an obsession for agriculture” – one of the biggest, most diverse and opportunity-rich industries in the province. Bhisho is on a massive drive to revitalise the industry and it has set its sights on getting more young people involved.
Speaking at a post-policy speech business breakfast hosted by The Herald and the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform yesterday, MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane unpacked his plans for the next financial year, highlighting the importance of agricultural development to ensure food security.
“We represent every household because food is a cornerstone of every human’s existence,” Qoboshiyane said.
“We need to create a new obsession in the province of the Eastern Cape.
“We need a new character for this province with its natural endowments – soil, land, wind, water, rivers, oceans and the human potential to ensure that we become food secure.”
Qoboshiyane said his department was focused on bringing small and emerging farmers into the commercial field. This was as the average age of commercial farmers in the province was 56 and there were not enough young people emerging to take over.
“I want to see communal farmers graduating to smallholder farmers, and through collaboration and partnership we can also see them gaining momentum – a platform of being commercial farmers,” Qoboshiyane said.
Despite livestock not being at the standard he wanted, Qoboshiyane said the province was the leader when it came to livestock numbers.
He highlighted the potential and importance of the meat, wool and animal-related industries in the province.
About R10.2-million has been set aside for the completion of boreholes, which started the previous financial year in a bid to address water shortages for livestock.
The department has also distributed close to 2 000 genetically prime animals to farmers, and plans to spend R37.4-million on vaccination and animal health research to ensure the health of the “provincial herd”.
The MEC also mentioned further investment in dairy, as the province produces 32% of the country’s total milk supply, and citrus, which is one of the province’s largest exports.
Qoboshiyane said R122.2-million had been allocated for grain production, with more money going towards lucerne production, which is both for food security as well as to minimise the amount of animal feed that is needed from other provinces.
Qoboshiyane’s department has helped revive industries such as pineapple, macadamia and chicory farming.
He said growing such industries would help develop the economy, grow jobs and assist with food production.
While the breakdown of the MEC’s policy speech was welcomed by the crowd of business leaders, commercial and emerging farmers and other industry leaders at yesterday’s event, some burning, and recurring issues were raised.
Although the government has spent R1.6-billion to buy 868 farms over the last 12 years, the issue of land reform and land availability for emerging farmers, as well as the required equipment for their agricultural enterprises, was still a hot topic.
Qoboshiyane said many different approaches had been taken on the issue, some with merit and others impractical, but the most important thing was a sensible approach when discussing land.
“This country needs a sense of normality when it comes to land issues,” Qoboshiyane said.
“If we are not mature enough to address this matter, the immaturity will take over. We understand the frustrations, and we cannot have permanent frustration, we need solutions.
“But I cannot give you a permanent answer because we are still trying to address that matter.”
Bongani Gocina, a representative from Youth in Agriculture and Rural Development, said young people with qualifications in the so-called scarce skills sector were still not being absorbed into the industry.
Qoboshiyane also applauded Deon Heyns from the Humansdorp Co-op, as he said he believed they shared the same vision for the development of agriculture.
Heyns said collaboration among the government, commercial farmers and developing farmers was crucial for the promotion of sustainable farming heading forward.
He said mentoring and skills sharing were important.