The New Age Business briefing by Honourable Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, MP Minister: Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at the Monte Casino, Johannesburg
27 Nov 2012
Thank you, Peter, for allowing me to share what the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is doing to tackle the triple challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty as we strive to ensure food security in our country, South Africa.
Firstly, I would like to thank the distinguished guests who have joined us here today. The Chief Whip and acting deputy chief whip of the majority party, the ambassadors of Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Swaziland, CEOs and industry leaders, farmers and farmer unions and business people. Lastly, I would like to welcome all viewers who are listening.
The right to food is a basic human right that is entrenched in our Constitution. Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water, and the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have just emerged from a tumultuous week, with farm workers in the Western Cape protesting about wages, decent living standards and service delivery. What concerned me, and what propelled me to get involved, as the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, was that I could not, or rather I should say, we, as the agriculture sector, could not sit still and watch all our hard work go up in smoke.
We had to intervene not only to bring the warring parties around the table for negotiations, but we also have a great responsibility towards farm workers and farmers alike to save the agriculture sector.
We would like to extend our thanks to the partners who assisted us in stabilising the situation in De Doorns, the late night meetings and numerous hours spent trying to find a solution were not in vain.
We put an end to violence, and we restored calm in the area. On the same topic, as I speak about my department’s role in eradicating the challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty, the conditions of farm workers stand out as a curious point. Three years ago, two reports looking into the conditions of farm workers in the Western Cape were released, one was by Human Rights Watch, and another by the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Bawsi. These reports painted a grim picture of the living conditions of farm workers in farms. These reports also validated what many other NGOs had been preaching all along, that there was cause for concern about the deplorable conditions of farm workers in our country.
Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot wish our problems away. We cannot use old tactics of divide and rule to isolate certain groups so we can place blame on them. This is not the time for blame. We have a multi generational problem that will take many years to solve, but the time is ripe for us to do that now.
When we speak of the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, the farm workers present a very vivid picture of where we could channel our energies and deliver.
As signatories to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG), we have the obligation to meet the targets set out in Goal 1, which talks to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The eradication of hunger and poverty is a particularly important development objective as good nutrition is vital for improved health and human capital outcomes. Although South Africa is maintaining its ability to meet national food requirements, large-scale inequality and poverty mean that many households do not have adequate access to food. A number of households live in a state of chronic poverty thus increasing their vulnerability to hunger and food insecurity.
The recently released results of Census 2011 show that we still have high levels of unemployment in this country, particularly among the youth. The unemployment rate among the 25-29 year olds, for example, stands at 33.7%, higher than the national average of 29.8% in terms of the official definition.
This is a huge challenge when one considers the fact that the bulk of our population is young in terms of age distribution. This state of affairs clearly indicates that we are still a long way from achieving our MDG targets.
Cabinet approved a national strategy in 2002 to streamline, harmonise and integrate the diverse food security programmes into the Integrated Food Security Strategy (IFSS). The strategy was implemented as from 2002, and there have been achievements in many of the strategic priority areas.
The global economic slowdown, increased food price volatility, and the impact of climate change have compelled a review of this Strategy, and the development of a comprehensive national food security policy.
The development of our country’s food security policy is an attempt to find solutions to the challenge of food insecurity. Feeding the nation is not just about providing food, but is also about creating a conducive environment for citizens to take part in the production of their own food.
The strategic goal of the food security policy is to improve South Africa’s adequacy and stability of access to safe and nutritious food at both national and household level. According to the General Household Survey of 2011, South Africa has about 11.5 million individuals that experience inadequate access to food. The emphasis of this policy will be to reduce this number and thereby contribute towards overall poverty alleviation.
The proposed policy calls for increased and better targeted public spending in social programmes, education and health services, and public works programmes, as well as for reprioritisation of government procurement of food to provide markets for community food production initiatives. It also calls for increased access to production loans for the emerging agricultural sector, and increased grants for small-scale producers in the three sectors.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has developed policies that recognise the roles that smallholder farmers and cooperatives can play towards increasing food production. The growth of the smallholder farming category is critical to government’s goal of increasing employment. There are, however, a number of challenges that may impede such growth and these include low levels of technical ability, low productivity, lack of access to finance and inability to meet quality standards demanded by today’s sophisticated markets.
A policy driven process is necessary to provide support for the development of our smallholder farmers and this is what my department is currently seized with. We need to review the decisions that we took earlier on in our democracy, some of which left us with practically no support to a strategic sector like agriculture, in the face of continuing and in some cases increasing agricultural support in some of our major trading partners.
Through CASP, the government aims to provide post-settlement support to targeted beneficiaries of land reform and redistribution and other producers who have acquired land through private means and are engaged in value-adding enterprises for the domestic and/or export markets.
The programme is supported by six pillars that aim to render comprehensive services to subsistence, commercial and smallholder farmers. The six pillars supported are On-and Off-farm Infrastructure Support, Technical and Advisory Services, Training and Capacity Building, Marketing and Business Development, Information and Knowledge Management and Financial Assistance. More than R4 billion has been spent on CASP projects nationwide since the inception of the programme in the 2004/05 financial year. The bulk of the expenditure has gone towards on- and off-farm infrastructure, while some allocations were made for the improvement of agricultural colleges and government extension services.
The Ilima/Letsema programme specifically targeted at increasing food production to fight poverty. It is also governed by the Division of Revenue Act and hence is implemented at provincial level. More than R800 million has been spent on Ilima/Letsema projects since its inception in the 2008/09 financial year. Some of the funding goes towards strategic interventions like the rehabilitation of irrigation schemes.
MAFISA was designed for the purposes of addressing the challenge of smallholder farmers’ lack of access to finance. Unlike CASP and Ilima/Letsema, which are grant funds, MAFISA is a loan scheme whose interest rates are capped at 8%. It was initiated back in 2005 after the then President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki, announced that the Department of Agriculture would set aside a sum of R1 billion to provide financial support to smallholder farmers.
To date, about R300 million has been disbursed, through financial intermediaries, as loans to smallholder farmers throughout the country. The MAFISA scheme has also been used to partner with the Land Bank to provide production loans to smallholder farmers at an interest rate of 4% through their Wholesale Financing Facility.
As I indicated earlier, we have encountered a number of challenges over the years with the implementation of these programmes. The challenges are mainly a consequence of poor project planning and general lack of project management skills. Poor repayment rates on the part of farmers are an added challenge for the loan finance schemes. There are various factors that lead to poor repayment rates. They include crop failures, animal disease outbreaks, natural calamities and lack of financial management skills. They are exacerbated by smallholder farmers’ lack of access to insurance products.
We are also engaging the private sector through public private partnerships to link smallholder farmers to markets. The Massmart-Walmart chain of stores, for example, has already started to partner with smallholder farmers in their direct farming programme, where they assist the farmers with technical assistance and then source fresh produce for their stores. Other South African agro processing firms like SAB Miller and Tiger Brands have similar schemes that benefit smallholder farmers immensely. As government, we are actively encouraging such partnerships as we seek to overcome the triple challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty.
The South African fisheries sector comprises of wild capture fisheries and aquaculture. In total, fisheries contributes about 0.5% to the country’s gross domestic product. This may seem like an insignificant figure but it is the main source of livelihood for many fishing communities and employs a significant number of people. Aquaculture is the fastest growing subsector in the world due, in part, to the dwindling wild fishery stocks. The world’s total aquaculture production amounted to 56 million tons in 2010, representing 47% of total fisheries production. As a country, we contribute less than 1% of Africa’s total production, although we remain one of the largest producers of farmed abalone in the world.
Although we have a well-established fisheries sector, it is one that still faces a number of challenges: While the sector has experienced a depletion and collapse of some fisheries, there is a growing reliance on the resources as a source of food security for many communities. This poses challenges to consider recovery measures for depleted stocks, broadening the scope of aquaculture as well as empowering fishing communities on alternative livelihoods avenues in order to ensure sustainable food security.
Persistent changes in the global market conditions continue to pose challenges to the fishing sector’s ability to export fishing products. Climate change has resulted in the migration of natural resources from their original habitats, leading to increasing levels of poverty, unemployment and poverty.
Fisheries is a highly contested industry, both locally and globally. It is plagued with syndicated crime, over exploitation of high-value species, corruption and low compliance levels. There is therefore a need to introduce comprehensive responses to this complex, highly technical and technologically advanced challenge of local and international organised crime.
These challenges necessitate a strategy shift in the manner in which resources are managed and the strengthening of efforts to address them. In responding to these challenges, our focus is on marine resource research and biological stock status assessments; monitoring, control and surveillance efforts, marine resource management involving both offshore and inshore fisheries; the development and promotion of the aquaculture sector, including both marine and freshwater fisheries; and stronger financial and corporate management.
Recent highlights include Cabinet’s approval of the small-scale fisheries policy. The policy aims to broaden access to communities, promote partnerships and joint management of limited marine resources, as well as revitalising traditional fishing communities.
The Integrated Fisheries Security Strategy was developed and implementation has commenced. Already we have seen some major successes in combating poaching by crime syndicates and improved cooperation between law enforcement agencies. There have been increased tip-offs from communities leading to successful arrests.
We have also commenced with the project of taking services to the people. In this regard, a mobile service delivery unit has been established, two satellite offices were launched in Saldanha and Port Elizabeth and fisheries development officers were appointed in each coastal province to assist communities with all fisheries related matters.
Partnerships with several coastal municipalities have been established to rehabilitate deserted fish processing plants in order to process fish for a major retailer. The beneficiaries of the project are the rights holders in those communities who will eventually own the facility. The other major development is the experimental abalone project in the Eastern Cape, which is benefitting about 1 000 individuals.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the fisheries industry for its willingness to assist us as we carry on our mandate. When the research vessel, the Africana was forced to return to shore after a mechanical breakdown, a large fishing offered us the use of its vessel so we could continue our research before the cut off date. We hold these relations will continue to strengthen even through we may differ on some instances.
Issued by: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
27 Nov 2012
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