Journey to a million jobs…
South African President Jacob Zuma, in his State of the Nation address, reiterated what is already in the country’s National Development Plan, the creation of one million jobs through agriculture by 2030. The state aims to achieve this among others through a focus on smallholder farmers which will include technical, infrastructural and financial support.
South Africa has a dual agricultural economy, a fully-fledged commercial farming sector which is the backbone of the country’s agricultural economy and on the other hand, a smallholder farming sector which is characterised by a lack of resources and very low income levels. Despite a lot of government support to smallholder farmers in the past ten years, not much of this support have resulted in a flourishing smallholder sector. Can more of the same change the fortunes of smallholders?
Government plans to spent over R7 billion on conditional grants to provinces to support about 435,000 subsistence and 54,500 smallholder farmers and to improve extension services. Smallholders mainly face challenges around a lack of access to land, production skills, finance and markets. The majority of these farmers have some production ability in farming, and through partnerships with organised agriculture and commodity groups have vastly improved their production skills. What the farmers currently need the most is access to markets. This is where the state and Africa is missing the point – enabling or promoting more intra-Africa trade. Government can play a huge role in procuring from smallholder farmers without distorting market prices or facilitating trade opportunities in new markets.
Agricultural prices fluctuate so badly that new farmers who have just started in the sector, stand a slim chance of success. If government can play a more positive role in assisting smallholders with markets, the estimated one million jobs can be possible. To expect ‘miracles’ from smallholders who are left to compete with large-scale commercial farmers with massive scale of production, it is near possible in the system where South African agriculture finds itself after market liberalisation.
Farming remains important to the South African economy with about 638,000 people formally employed in the sector – although it’s estimated that millions more are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their employment and income. It is possible to create the one million jobs expected from the sector by 2030 with the right policies and support services to smallholders and the agricultural sector at large.