DURBAN - The agricultural sector is of key strategic importance in unlocking the inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development goals of Durban and the province as a whole.
In 2018, theKwaZulu- Natal (KZN) agricultural sector contributed about 4.4percent to the provincial economy, producing approximately 30percent of South Africa’s agricultural output. This highlights its central role in providing food security for the province and South Africa as well as its significant contribution towards creating formal and informal employment.
Agriculture, as we have seen in developed economies, has the ability create jobs, reduce inequality, increase equal access to opportunities and, ultimately, decrease poverty levels. As such, allocating funding to developing the formal and informal agriculture sector in townships and rural areas will contribute to labour absorption as well as social and economic inclusion.
There is a strategic need to prioritise efforts aimed at expanding the agricultural sector and actively attracting emerging farmers into it. The positive socio-economic spin-offs from greater investment and development in this sector include a positive impact on socio-economic challenges such as unemployment as well as greater or more inclusive economic activity for marginalised communities. The government and organised business, especially the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and retail sectors, need to demonstrate commitment to educating, empowering and supporting emerging farmers, particularly those focused on export commodities.
There is tremendous potential for economic growth and empowerment for local producers through opportunities in the export market and increased efforts to drive local trade (“buy local” campaigns) in favour of imports. As the Durban Chamber, we have hosted and co-hosted numerous inbound trade delegations from diverse markets that have indicated a tremendous appetite for KZN agricultural commodities in other countries across the continent. Some of the those in great demand include avocado, goat meat, tobacco, citrus and deciduous fruit, maize, sunflowers, wheat and wool.
With land expropriation being a topical issue, the final report of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture was recently issued. Business needs to be aware, of course, that this report is advisory in nature and that the government may prioritise the implementation of aspects that resonate with or respond to political sentiment.
Businesses in the agricultural sector need to invest time in reviewing the report and taking note of how it will affect them. New entrants in the sector need to also review it carefully for opportunities. Some opportunities exist in that there are large, unused portions of land in the City and province, which can be repurposed for agriculture-related projects and initiatives.
The government and organised business need to collaborate on practical and structured programmes that ensure that the gender-based barriers that exist in the agricultural sector are addressed through policy and programmes that socially, economically, politically and legally empower rural women engaged in farming.
There is a lot of work needing to be done to reposition agriculture as a future-focused industry, particularly amongst youth who may have negative perceptions of it as labour intensive and unprofitable work more suited for an older generation. Empowering the youth to be involved in the agricultural industry is crucial for future food security. Showcasing how innovative and vibrant the agriculture industry is across its value chain from smart design and vertical farms, automation, agri-processing software and technology, research and development, warehousing, logistics to packaging could make the sector more attractive for youth.
A robust and progressive agricultural industry in our province can be achieved by focussing on more efficient utilisation and expansion of agricultural land, committed implementation of market access programmes both locally and internationally, and more aggressive support for agri-processing to create speciality agricultural products for international markets.
The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, through our newly established Agriculture Forum, will be unpacking the Land Reform Report’s findings and recommendations. This forum’s focus is on promoting agriculture as a key economic driver of eThekwini Municipality, providing visibility for innovative and creative agriculture-related projects and events, unpacking policy directives and regulations which impact the sector, and initiating advocacy programs related to the sector in order to appropriately respond to barriers to growth and development, through relevant strategies and actions.
Palesa Phili is the chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.