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FS moves to revive agric sector

The Provincial Research Advisory Committee meeting in session at O. R. Tambo building in Bloemfontein                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: Buko Gcolotela/DESTEA

By New Trends Reporter                                                                              –

Concerted efforts are underway to revive the agricultural sector in the Free State which has been underperforming for the past decade.

Speaking in an interview at the conclusion of a Provincial Research Advisory Committee (PRAC) meeting at O.R. Tambo building in Bloemfontein last Friday, the Director of Planning and Research at the provincial Department of Economic, Small business development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DESTEA), Johannes Mosia, said the meeting was necessitated by the need to map out solutions to the declining agriculture productivity.

“This initiative is being coordinated by DESTEA, specifically to look into the issues affecting the agricultural sector. We are a farming province with agriculture being the major contributor to the economy of Free State but we have noticed that, in the recent past, the sector has not been performing well. In the second quarter of 2018, we lost 20 000 jobs in the farming industry. We have, therefore, decided to convene this meeting so that we can be able to look into the challenges affecting this sector and come up with recommendations for possible solutions,” explained Mosia.

The meeting saw presentations from stakeholders in the sector, such as the Agricultural Research Council (ACR); the Land and Agricultural Bank; the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) as well as the University of the Free State (UFS), presenting information on the state of affairs in the sector.

Some of the challenges mentioned include issues of water rights, collateral security when sourcing funds as well as climate change.

“A few challenges have been identified today because there are many other challenges facing this sector. We have established a task team today and DESTEA, as the secretariat, will have consultations with all the stakeholders to see how we can take the process forward to ensure these challenges are addressed,” Mosia said.

One of the presenters, Zimbini Mdlulwa, an Agricultural Economist at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), believes the challenge posed by climate change and global warning is one of the major reasons why farming output has declined.

“As ARC, our mandate is to conduct agricultural research and we have seen the negative impact of climate change, especially the challenge posed by drought through the El Nino effect. Also the disease outbreaks that have been experienced in recent times, such as the armyworm, are a direct result of climate change,” Mdlulwa said.

She added that her organisation has developed drought-resistant crop cultivars that are already on the market in a bid to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Meanwhile, an emerging farmer, Keith Middleton, lamented the slow transformation of the sector which, he said, leaves black farmers more vulnerable to failure as they face more challenges than their counterparts.

“As black farmers, we literally have to struggle to get by. Firstly, financial institutions do not take us seriously when we apply for assistance. Then we have to deal with issues of water rights where, sometimes, one finds themselves with a farm but with the water rights belonging to someone else. Other challenges that we are facing include bad roads that hamper timeous transportation of fresh produce to markets,” said Middleton.

Lack of title deeds was also identified as another challenge facing emerging players in the agricultural sector.

Agricultural output has been on a decline in the Free State has been on a decline since 2010 and this has resulted in loss of unemployment. Provincial productivity has even dipped below the national level hence the need to ensure that the sector is revived.

On its part, DARD, through its MEC, Dr Benny Malakoane, has embarked on an initiative to strike partnerships with commercial agricultural producers such as the poultry and milk producers as well as grain producing giants, Senwes and OVK. The initiative is expected to see enhanced cooperation between government and the private sector to ensure that productivity is improved in the province.

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