Small farms’ boost to food security

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BR SYGNETA Bloomberg Pedestrians walk past the entrance to Syngenta's headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. The Swiss company is helping small-scale African farmers. Photo: Bloomberg

Johannesburg - When the government set aside R2 billion to support the End Hunger campaign last year, by putting 1 million hectares of fallow land into production, small-scale and smallholder farmers were made the centre of the programme.

But gone are the days of subsistence farming as a reaction to food insecurity.

Local retailers and multi-national agribusinesses last week pledged their support in ensuring that small-scale farmers were also linked to the retail market. The commitment was made at the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association academic symposium in Cape Town.

Agribusinesses looked ready to take small-scale farmers to the next level through teaching them modern plant-growing practices and helping them to meet retail demand in terms of quantities and food safety compliance.

“There is no reason why an African grower cannot achieve the same standards as others,” said Mark Titterington, Syngenta’s head of corporate affairs for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Syngenta, the Swiss agribusiness, is investing $500 million (R5.3 billion) in Africa between 2012 and 2022.

In South Africa, it opened a Seedcare Centre and a Seedcare Institute at its Brits formulation, fill and packing plant last month.

In February, it opened a Grain Academy, where 20 young commercial growers are participating in a leadership programme this year.

The academy was developed in partnership with the University of Free State’s Business School and is supported by Grain South Africa.

Syngenta launched its “good growth plan” last year in an attempt to engage small-scale farmers in food security.

The aim was to make the farms participating in the programme up to 20 percent more efficient through good organisation of water and soil, and less use of pesticides and fertilisers.

Titterington said the company had made a commitment to reach 5 million smallholder farmers in Africa “who we’d look to increase their productivity by about 50 percent”.

“How do we do that? It’s about giving them access to basic technology.”

It took a smallholder 200 hours of back-breaking work to weed a one hectare farm. “We can do better than that. A simple herbicide liberates that individual’s time,” he said.

Syngenta has already reached dozens of small-scale vegetable growers through horticulture centres in Kenya, supplying and training them to work with modern hybrid seeds and seeds with crop protection chemicals. It also teaches them about irrigation and soil protection.

“What we are trying to do is to equip small holders to deliver higher standards and quality produce and to deliver that produce into the value chain.”

There were other barriers to their market access, such as infrastructure challenges, including a lack of transportation specifically for fresh produce and proper storage facilities, as well as poor quality and lower quantities of produce.

“It’s not just one factor but… if you can increase the quantity and the quality of the produce, and ensure it is in a sustainable way, then you solve part of the problem,” said Titterington.

Pick n Pay and the Johannesburg Market were helping these farmers meet food safety compliance and good agricultural practices (GAP) such as GlobalGAP and LocalGAP.

LocalGAP is a more affordable, entry-level GAP certification, from SA LivestockGAP for emerging small farmers who cannot afford to comply with GlobalGAP standards. - Business Report


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