No attempt to chase farmers — minister
Business Day - May 4th 2011, 11:48
CAPE TOWN — South African farmers should expand their business interests into other African countries, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said yesterday.
Speaking during a press briefing after a conference on rural poverty hosted by the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), Ms Joemat-Pettersson said expanding into Africa would enhance food security on the continent, not compromise it.
"We are not saying that our farmers should relocate or move their business operations from SA to other countries; they should use SA as a base and then expand their business operations into the rest of Africa," Ms Joemat-Pettersson said.
In her keynote address during the conference, Ms Joemat-Pettersson said an equitable ownership of land remained essential to safeguarding democracy in SA.
"Our government has tried to bring in this balance between land reform and food security and it’s a very tight balance — it’s like walking on a tightrope."
The minister also said it was not sustainable for the country to rely on a small group of farmers for its food requirements .
She said the continent was capable of improving food security and boosting economic growth through increasing support for smallholder farmers.
While Africa was still facing challenges in reducing poverty, "a vision of economic renaissance" led by smallholder farmers was beginning to take hold.
"There is a growing belief that Africa can produce enough not only to feed its own citizens, but to export a growing surplus to the rest of the world," Ms Joemat-Pettersson said.
She said SA was in the forefront of developing a railway system that would link the entire continent and allow farmers to take goods from road to rail across Africa.
The agricultural value chain had been identified in the New Growth Path as one of the key sectors to grow the number of jobs, she said.
Speaking at the same conference, the Ifad fund’s president, Kanayo Nwanze, said the African Union had recognised the central role of agriculture in reducing poverty when its members pledged to increase spending on agriculture to at least 10% of national budgets.
"This pledge was made in 2003 in Maputo. By last year, eight countries had met or surpassed that target; the continent as a whole has not," Mr Nwanze said.
To grow the agricultural sector, African countries also needed to maintain political stability, encourage more youths to turn to farming and, importantly, invest more in rural infrastructure, he said .
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