Johannesburg — Growing the smallholder farming sector is critical to government's goal of increasing employment, says Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
However, there were a number of challenges that may impede such growth, including low levels of technical ability, low productivity, lack of access to finance and the inability to meet quality standards demanded by the markets.
The minister said a policy-driven process was necessary to provide support for the development of the smallholder farmers.
Speaking at a New Age breakfast briefing in Johannesburg on Monday, Joemat-Pettersson said her department had developed policies that recognised the roles that smallholder farmers and cooperatives could play towards increasing food production.
She said although the country was maintaining its ability to meet national food requirements, large-scale inequality and poverty meant that many households did not have adequate access to food.
With regard to the fisheries sector, the minister said aquaculture was the fastest growing subsector in the whole world due, in part, to the dwindling wild fishery stocks.
Fisheries contribute 0.5 percent to the country's Gross Domestic Product and while it may seem like an insignificant figure, the minister said it employed a significant number of people.
The world's total aquaculture production amounted to 56 million tons in 2010 representing 47 percent of total fisheries production.
"As a country, we contribute less than one percent of Africa's total production, although we remain one of the largest producers of framed abalone in the world," she said.
Recently, Cabinet approved the small-scale fisheries policy. The policy aims to broaden access to communities, promote partnerships and the joint management of limited marine resources as well as revitalising traditional fishing communities.
Following the implementation of the Integrated Fisheries Security Strategy, major successes in combating poaching by syndicates have been recorded.
With regard to the Western Cape farm workers strike, the minister said what propelled her to get involved was not to bring the warring parties around the table for negotiations, but to have great responsibility towards farmers and farm workers to save the agricultural sector.
"We've put an end to violence and we restored calm in the area [of De Doorns]," she said.
A group of largely female workers walked off the job on a farm near De Doorns in August and it then spread to other areas. The strikes took a violent turn when workers began demanding an increase of R150 a day.
Asked if government was powerless at forcing farmers to improve the living conditions of farm workers, Joemat-Pettersson said this was not so. "The law is there, but what is lacking is implementation and monitoring. The living conditions of farm workers farm workers stand out as a curious point of my department's role of eradicating the challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty."
The minister said farm workers presented a very vivid picture of where they could channel their energy as the department.
Three years ago, two reports looking into the conditions of farm workers in the Western Cape by the Human Rights Watch and by the Non-governmental organisation, Bawsi, were done. The reports indicated that there was cause for concern about the deplorable conditions of farm workers in the country.