A new partnership between South Africa's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department, non-governmental organisation TechnoServe SA and retailer Massmart will create jobs and provide support for smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers, in poor communities.
Speaking at the official launch of the Ezemvelo Direct Farm Programme in Tzaneen in Limpopo province on Thursday, Joemat-Pettersson said the programme aimed to identify and develop small farmers to supply Massmart with fresh produce on an ongoing basis.
Massmart - which is majority-owned by US retail giant Walmart - has signed a three-year supplier development agreement with TechnoServe SA which will ultimately link small farmers directly to Massmart stores.
TechnoServe South Africa director Earl Sampson said the targeted small-scale farmers could potentially form the core of the next generation of commercial farmers.
The programme - an investment of over R15-million - includes training, mentoring, technical assistance and establishing essential links to both finance and retail markets.
"What you have seen here is a confirmation that smallholder farmers are creating jobs, even though they are not recognised as commercial farmers," Joemat- Pettersson said.
"While commercial farmers are shedding jobs, smallholder farmers are creating jobs, and that addresses the problem of unemployment."
She said the initiative would also drastically help the government to fight inequality, poverty and boost food security in South Africa.
"In this Ezemvelo programme, the majority of participants are women and black women in general. It is African women who are in the [grip] of poverty, they are the poorest of the poor, but through this, we are assisting them to put food on the table, as well as earning an income."
Developing and supporting small farmers
Joemat-Pettersson said the government would not be able to run the programme on its own, and would also not be able to develop all smallholder farmers without the assistance of the private sector and other government departments, along with commitment from the communities themselves.
"Our analysis of why smallholder farmers cannot really become successful is because they [do] not have access to finance, skills and market, but once the market is available, you can be guaranteed that you will have quality, quantity and regularity," Joemat-Pettersson said.
One of the pilot projects situated in the Trichardtsdal area outside Tzaneen is owned by 73-year-old Jamela Mogodi, who started farming on less than a hectare of land in 2003.
Mogodi, a retired nurse, currently employs 10 people - seven women and three men from the local communities. Since getting government's support to irrigate seven hectares of land, she now grows green beans, butternut, tomatoes, dry beans and green peppers.
Through this initiative, Mogodi will supply various grades of produce to Cambridge Food and Game Foodco stores through Massmart's fresh produce division, Massfresh.
"I so hope that this initiative will help me produce more food and create more jobs for the local community," she said.
Another local small farmer, Samuel Phasha, has been farming on his 110 hectares of land since 2000.
For the current season, he expects to harvest a butternut crop, which he will sell to Massmart from September to October.
"This year, I am growing butternut for Massmart. It's good to have the certainty of a market and it's good to have a buyer come to me," he said.
The Massmart executive responsible for the programme, Mncane Mthunzi, said: "We are excited about this programme, and our investment in this initiative will assist in job creation, while also contributing to the economic empowerment of participating farmers."
SANews.gov.za, with additional reporting by SAinfo.