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Interview by Papiso Matsau

In November 2011, Africa Investor (AI), an international investment and Communications group, named you the recipient of the Africa Agriculture Minister of the year award as part of their annual AI Agribusiness awards. In your opinion, what have been some of your ministry’s most notable accomplishments since you took office in 2009?

Our administration invested a lot of work towards the establishment and maintenance of domestic and international markets. Moreover, we sought to open new markets in regions like the South and Central America and the rest of Africa. The benefits of these engagements have been astounding. We have seen trade with countries like Mexico, Argentina and Brazil increasing significantly. Our membership of BRICS is also expected to lead to further gains in terms of trade and investment with countries that share the same philosophies and vision. BRICS represents a block of countries that are destined to occupy a higher ground on economic growth and development terms going forward and we intend to maximise the benefits of being part of that collective.

Another notable achievement is the success we have had in halting job losses in agriculture. In fact, Statistics South Africa, the national statistics agency of the Republic, recorded a 87 000 growth in jobs between the second quarter of 2011 and the fourth quarter of 2012. This is a remarkable achievement, especially at a time when global demand was still fragile due to the economic meltdown in many parts of the world. It is through our efforts to open up new markets in other developing countries and our commitment to supporting growth of the smallholder farmers in the country that we have managed to achieve these results.

Shortly before commencing my term of office, our country had drifted to becoming a net importer of food. This of course was a major cause of concern for the current administration as it would leave us vulnerable to unfavourable movements in global food markets and in so doing threaten our food security situation. Today, however, we are proud to say that we have managed to reverse that situation and have become, once more, a net food exporting nation.

Although I do not have the exact statistics at this point, allow me to also mention that we have gradually increased the number of black smallholder farmers in the country. This we have done through ensuring that they have access to technical support and finance. Access to finance has always been the smallholder farmer’s biggest constraint but, working with the Land Bank, a state owned development finance institution, we have ensured that financial products tailor made for the needs of these farmers were developed and made available.

In some instances we have worked with the private sector to foster partnerships that will further develop smallholder farmers into prosperous entrepreneurs. A case in point is the partnership with Walmart/Massmart, which has seen to the development of smallholder farmers in Limpopo. The farmers were equipped with skills, training, finance and access to markets. Similar projects are in the pipeline for other parts of the country where the retailing giant has operations.

Since 2009, we have signed memoranda of understanding with several countries in the African continent. This is in line with our objective of increasing trade and engaging in mutually beneficial development programs with other African countries. We signed the following: Centre for Coordination of Agriculture, Research and Development of Southern Africa (CCARDESA).The Memorandum of Understanding, the CCARDESA Charter, was signed in Pretoria on August 2011 and launched in Gaborone, Botswana July 2011. The purpose of this Charter was to provide Member States with a framework for the establishment of a sub-regional organization that will coordinate agricultural research and development (R&D) in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
Seed Harmonisation Regulatory System was signed in Windhoek, Namibia during the Council of Ministers meeting in November 2010: The purpose of the MoU was to regulate the movement of seeds in the region, seed certification and phytosanitary measures for seeds. It is aimed at providing member states with a legal framework to cooperate in the implementation of the system.

The Minister hosted, in Johannesburg, the African Ministers’ Climate-Smart Conference in preparation for the COP17 Conference that was to be held in Durban, South Africa. The Minister was also instrumental in the development of the African position on agriculture for COP17
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Bilateral engagements include the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville): Heads of State Summit for the Three Rain Forests Basin held in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) on 31 May to 3 June 2011.An agreement in the field of agriculture was signed in October 2010, the purpose of the agreement was to maintain and strengthen their bilateral relations in the field of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Abuja, Nigeria from 8 to 10 March 2010: High level Conference on the Development of Agri-Business and Agro- Industries in Africa. The Minister met with her Nigerian counterpart and discussed the potentials of the two countries’ agriculture sectors, with Nigeria interested expressing keen interest in developing her agro-industries and agro-processing. South African agro-processing and agro-Industries are encouraged to invest in Nigeria.

South Africa is among the 26 nations to be signatory to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). The primary goal of CAADP is to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty through agriculture. In order to achieve this goal, the CAADP agenda aligns itself with the Maputo Declaration that called for African nations to increase public investment in agriculture by a minimum of 10% of their national budgets and to raise agricultural productivity by at least six percent. Has South Africa achieved this commitment? What would a 10% increase in public agricultural investment mean for the average South African farmer? What programs has this initiative funded? Can you briefly describe some of its successes?

The Department is currently undertaking a budget tracking exercise to determine allocations to agriculture and rural development across the three spheres of government. I am confident that this will reveal that South Africa is investing heavily in these areas, although the national budget of the Department does not constitute the 10% target.

While not contesting the target set through the Maputo Declaration, it should be noted that in the case of South Africa, the primary agriculture sector contributes between 2.5% to 3% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and it may therefore be difficult to justify an allocation of at least 10% of the national budget to the sector. The situation is made even more complex in a country that is still burdened by the legacy of apartheid that manifests itself in high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The CAADP agenda outlines certain strategies that should be employed in order to actualize its goal of reducing rural poverty. Strengthening the capacities among the agribusiness community is listed as one of these strategies. How has your Ministry improved the agribusiness community’s ability to operate in South Africa?

Agribusinesses in South Africa are doing relatively well, although like all the other industries, they have also in some ways suffered the consequences of the global economic meltdowns of recent years. Within the CAADP processes, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries consulted with agricultural industry stakeholders to make inputs on how the CAADP agenda should be shaped in South Africa. There have been two consultation meetings with civil society organisations. The agribusiness community in South Africa is a vibrant one which adds significantly to the country’s economy. Various departments, such as the Department of Trade and Industry, have established incentive schemes to promote agribusinesses as part of building rural economies. We also strive to maintain acceptable turnaround times in our regulatory services to keep the costs of doing business as low as possible for agribusinesses in the country.

South Africa helped lead the way to the establishment of the Centre for the Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Africa (CCARDESA). The stated goal of the CCARDESA is to secure regional food security through research and innovation. The Centre intends to focus primarily on improving the agricultural practices of smallholder and small commercial farms. What has been the impact of the CCARDESA on smallholder and commercial farmers, thus far? How does your Ministry ensure that the research findings and suggestions of the CCARDESA reach the average South African Farmer and the agribusiness community as a whole?

CCARDESA was only launched and implemented less than a year ago. So, it is too early for us to assess its impact. South Africa has been invited to serve on the board of CCARDESA through the leadership of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). A regional planning workshop is being conducted by the new board of CCARDESA to identify and agree on priorities for the year as well as to ensure clear alignment to CAADP multi-country productivity programmes through research.

While giving a speech marking the establishment of CCARDESA, Botswana’s Minister of Agriculture remarked, “the issue of food security is particularly challenging to our region because despite the various challenges we have, the region is endowed with reasonable resources, that if put to good use, can change the situation.” How far is South Africa from achieving food security? What role do you see for South Africa and its neighbors in achieving food security? Could increasing trade within the region assist all parties involved in reaching their agricultural needs? Do you believe increased regional agribusiness related trade and investment could provide more jobs to South Africans?

We are on the verge of taking a Food Security Policy to Cabinet, which will respond to both national and regional concerns about food security.

South Africa is food secure as a country, however up to 13% of citizens experience food insecurity for a number of reasons, including lack of income due to the high levels of unemployment, inadequate storage facilities and distribution networks. It is with this realisation in mind that we have embarked on programs aimed at increasing household food security in the country. In this regard, we are actively assisting smallholder and subsistence farmers, particularly in the former homeland areas with potential for production. Our target is to put one million hectares of land with potential for agricultural production, into production within the next few years. This year farmers will be harvesting the first crops from this programme, which has proven to be successful and well received.

Agriculture and agribusiness have been identified in the New Growth Path as key jobs drivers, and the National Development Plan envisions up to 1 million new jobs in these sectors by 2030. Regional trade development is part of this, as is expanding trade especially with Brazil, Russia, India and China in the context of BRICS.

Leading up to last Novembers’s global climate-change meeting in Durban, your Ministry fought hard to ensure that agricultural issues occupied a main part of the meeting’s agenda. The Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper, quoted you as stating, “Feeding our people at a time of climate change is the real challenge. As long as agriculture is the sector that is most vulnerable to climate change, we will always have a responsibility to mobilize the rest of the continent.” How has your Ministry promoted sustainable agricultural practices in South Africa and on the continent? How has your Ministry acted to prepare for climate change events in terms of food security?

We are currently conducting research which installs bio-digesters on farms owned by small-scale and subsistence farmers in the rural areas of one district in the country. The project enhances household food security and job creation and promotes rural development by providing alternative sources of energy. The project has training and capacity building components to it that are aimed at improving its sustainability in the long run.

We have legislation and policies that are aimed at addressing the sustainability of agriculture in the country. Chief among those is the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA) 43 of 1983, whose objective is to conserve agricultural resources. A number of programmes focusing on the maintenance of the production potential of the land are implemented. The LandCare programme is aimed at optimising productivity and sustainability of natural resources to enhance greater productivity, food security, job creation and better quality of life for all and identifying measures to address issues of LandCare including mitigation and adapting to climate change. Under this programme we are encouraging best farming practices such as diversification, selection of crops with shorter germination period and shorter growing season as well as developing new breeds for livestock and crops in order to adapt to the changed environment particularly in dry land farming areas.

We are currently conducting a climate change research project which analyses an ensemble of present day and future climate simulations with the aim of determining the crop suitability of selected crops for the South African region. This analysis has the potential to identify regions where temperature related events can negatively impact crop production.

Agricultural production is risky as it is very sensitive to the extreme weather and climate conditions. The sector continues to be affected by the impacts of natural hazards due to the frequency of extreme weather and climate events. The expected impacts of climate change make it even more vulnerable. It is in that light that among the Departmental programmes early warning system for natural hazards disseminates warnings and advisories in line with the expected weather and climate conditions for prevention and mitigation of disaster risks in accordance with the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002. The disseminated information includes the suggested strategies for day to day farming activities including sustainable agriculture. We continue to raise awareness on the impact and benefits of climate change to minimize the impacts of climate change in agriculture, forestry and fisheries production and productivity due to unexpected climatic hazards. We are currently developing a climate change adaptation and mitigation plan which puts emphasis on adaptation and mitigation measures that can assist to adapt and reduce vulnerability to climate change and improve productivity.

How has your Ministry worked with potential private investors? Have you had any investors that you would like to mention and do you have any stories of their successes?

The National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) works closely with private investors such as farmers, exporters, farmer organisations, retailers, and agro-processing firms, on a number of issues that call for collaboration. Mention has already been made of the partnerships that have been created with Walmart/Massmart. There are other similar partnerships that we are actively pursuing with various private sector partners that we may not divulge for confidentiality purposes at this stage. The Walmart/Massmart project addresses everything that smallholder farmers require in order to be successful and have sustainable businesses.

The Department also participates in a public private partnership, which is led by the office of the President of the Republic of South Africa, President Jacob Zuma. This PPP promotes food production, especially in rural areas and on under-used communal land.

Can you recommend any agribusiness related activities in South Africa that would be open to private investors and that would be profitable and most beneficial to South Africa’s people?

South Africa is full of opportunities. There are many agriculture related opportunities that one can think about. One that I can think of is increased capacity in the soybean value chain. This is in line with the fact that South Africa produces and exports soybeans while importing soybean oilcake. The second to consider, which is more long term, is increased capacity in the mohair and wool value chains considering the proportion of raw wool and mohair that this country exports. Increased production of products such as paprika, cotton provides good opportunities to investors.

There are many such opportunities, and the area of aquaculture already mentioned is just one of these. Other areas of development include bio-fuels industry. The promulgation of a blending mandate will offer huge opportunities for the development of this industry.

On February 28th, 2013, you gave a speech on the occasion of BRICS provincial Road show in Kimberley, Northern Cape Province. In this speech you mentioned many of the international trade advancements and knowledge sharing South Africa is making with fellow BRICS members. You mentioned taking inspiration from urban gardens in Brazil; how much of South Africa’s food needs do you think an initiative for urban farming could achieve?

There is great potential in this regard, although it will not, on its own, solve the problems of food insecurity. What it does do is provide fresh food, mostly vegetables, which are often the missing ingredients in a nutritional sense. It also serves to develop among children an interest in agriculture, which will help build the next generation of commercial farmers.

During the February 28th speech, you also mentioned South Africa’s work with China via the Understanding on Agriculture Cooperation and the Cooperation Exchange in Aquaculture Mechanization agreements. Do you see South Africa’s growing relationship with China as a key to achieving food security and economic growth? In the long run, how do you see this partnership growing?

In 2012 we hosted a delegation from China and among the issues that they were interested in, is agro-processing. Their visit was coordinated by my department. This year, our colleagues will reciprocate that visit by travelling to China. This is to make sure that we create a platform for forging a clear understanding of each other’s capacities and to learn as much as we can, where possible.
In your BRICS speech, you also noted South Africa’s strong brand recognition in fellow BRICS nations. Do you see this brand awareness in other non-BRICS countries? How has your Ministry worked to promote the South African brand abroad?

The Department has offices in non BRICS countries such as the USA, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland as part of ensuring that South Africa is part of the global business network in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. Part of the mandate for these offices is to promote the SA brand whilst pursuing market access for our agricultural, forestry and fisheries products. We hope to open more foreign offices as part of our broader ambition to become active players in the global marketing chains.

What do you see as a role for Western-based agribusinesses in South Africa? Is South Africa open to Foreign Direct Investment and partnerships between local and foreign companies in its agribusiness market? Can you briefly describe any such current arrangements?

I suppose that a number of direct foreign investments in the food industry are viewed in perspective of their agricultural potential. The deal regarding Walmart/Massmart and its small scale grower scheme should be considered in this light. Foreign direct investment is always a good indication of the environment (country’s prosperity) and is accepted regardless of the country of origin as long as it will be customised to assist government deliver on its socio-economic commitment to the people of our country. We always encourage joint ventures between local and foreign companies whenever such possibilities arise.

Thank you very much for your insights.