Food security first, says department
Business Day - Apr 3rd 2012, 08:15
SAâ€™s biggest challenge is the food price volatility and anticompetitive behaviour in the agriculture sector that affects food security and planning for hunger reduction programmes, according to Langa Zita, director-general in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Delivering his department's 2012 strategic plan to the portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries last week, he said his department would ensure that extension services â€” especially in forestry and fisheries, the least-developed sectors â€” were improved to increase their role in food production.
Mr Zita said the department would help to increase production of food, fibre and timber products by producers. This would lead to the establishment of vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities that were contributing towards food security. Meanwhile, it would slowly facilitate the availability of markets for products produced by smallholders.
He said the departmentâ€™s vision was guided by the governmentâ€™s medium-term strategic framework priority, which says the agriculture sector needs to accomplish a comprehensive rural development strategy linked to land and agrarian reform and food security.
To achieve food security, Mr Zita said comprehensive funding facilities supporting smallholder producers would receive more support and be made easily accessible. The goal was to establish 15000 smallholder producers supported through the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme, he said. The programme provides post-settlement support to beneficiaries of land reform as well as to other producers who have acquired land through private means and were engaged in value-adding enterprises domestically or in exports.
It is regarded as a core focus for the department even though the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform runs a similar programme to revive idle agricultural land distributed by previous administrations.
John Purchase, CEO of the Agricultural Business Chamber, said there was concern about whether the departmentâ€™s strategic plan correctly identified the challenges and risks.
But "the bigger concern" was its ability to implement its plans. He cited recent biosecurity problems related to a dearth of experts such as veterinarians and toxicologists to monitor agro-chemicals, as well as "declining implementation of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures" and the "deterioration" of agricultural colleges.
Dr Purchase said there was a deficiency in identifying the critical factors that constrain the competitiveness of the agribusiness sector, including the ability of smallholders to competitively and profitably access the mainstream commercial value chains.
He said responsibility for tackling many of the constraints â€” such as rail freight, water, electricity prices and labour â€” lay with other departments.
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