Unlocking agricultural potential to spur growth

28 February 2017

By Minister Senzeni Zokwana

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries - Mr Senzeni Zokwana.

President Jacob Zuma on February 24 launched Operation Phakisa: Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. Operation Phakisa is a methodology adapted from Malaysia which seeks to bring diverse stakeholders together to find ways to unlock the potential of a particular sector, thereby ushering in ‘big, fast results’.

Since its introduction in 2014, it has been successfully replicated in sectors such as mining, education and oceans economy.

Many people would agree that agriculture, land reform and rural development are areas in which all of us would like to see more tangible results effectively building on what has been achieved over the years. Our government has made notable progress even though more still needs to be done. 

For instance, over the past six years, employment in the agricultural has sector has risen by almost 300 000 jobs while at the same time increasing the wages of farmworkers. Second, 8 million hectares of land have been transferred to black South Africans since 1995. This transfer has taken place and in line with the Constitution and we expect this trend to continue.  

We have also over the past 15 years witnessed a halving in the number of households experiencing hunger. In addition, we have seen an upsurge in economic vibrancy around the former homeland areas, including a decline in unemployment rates since 2001. The figures clearly contradict the perception that these areas cannot contribute meaningfully to economic growth.

Even though we have seen notable progress, we believe more can be accomplished in the agricultural sector through addressing existing challenges. For instance, hundreds of thousands of hectares continue to be under-utilised within the former homelands. Second, land reform projects are still too fragile and support to farmers is not at the level it should be.

Operation Phakisa presents us with an opportunity to address some of these challenges. The recent launch follows a successful six month consultative process to finalise the objectives for the Operation Phakisa Lab. The Lab involved over 150 participants from labour, business, academia and civil society organisations as well as farmers themselves.

Structured around a number of key work streams, they looked at the challenges facing agriculture, land reform and rural development. They explored opportunities in the agricultural sector and then came up with 27 initiatives that can unlock the endless potential in the sector.

Some of the proposals include ensuring the sector is transformed, rural economies are further stimulated and prioritising the outstanding claims of restitution. Further proposals include building the careers of previously disadvantaged groups and identifying profitable markets while also improving market access for commercial and small-scale producers.

In addition, the Trade Promotion, Retention and Optimisation initiative aims to increase South Africa’s Horticultural trade potential from an estimated R54.4 billion in 2015 to R90 billion by 2030.

These initiatives are currently being integrated into the performance plans of key departments such as the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.

The launch of this Operation Phakisa demonstrates our commitment to use international best practice to build a better life for all, especially the poor and the working. Today, agriculture plays an important role in the lives of our people and contributes the country’s GDP.

We therefore need to use it to transform our economy and address the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Agriculture has according to the National Development Plan the potential to create one million jobs by 2030.

We must ensure that we open doors and assist those who had previously been denied opportunities to own farms, be successful commercial farmers, and create much needed jobs so we are able to meaningfully address our triple challenge.

We are confident that through Operation Phakisa we will achieve our 2030 targets as set out in the National Development Plan and build a more inclusive and prosperous sector of which all South Africans can be proud.

Senzeni Zokwana is the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.