Agriculture has become central to the work of government to address the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, said Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Addressing delegates at the Agri-Sector Forum (ASUF) policy conference in Stellenbosch on Thursday, Minister Joemat-Pettersson said: "The National Development Plan (NDP) acknowledged agriculture as one of the sectors that can create up to one million new jobs.
"With this kind of potential, agriculture is indeed a game changer that can make our rural economies a model of social integration and development. And we need your guidance and support in developing and implementing policies which will achieve this."
The NDP proposes a differentiated rural development strategy, which has agriculture as an essential component. It further advocates agricultural development based on successful land reform, employment creation and strong environmental safeguards.
To achieve this, Minister Joemat-Pettersson recommends that irrigated agriculture and dry land production be expanded, beginning with smallholder farmers.
She said agro-processing, aquaculture and small enterprise development opportunities should be explored in areas with economic potential.
Agricultural Policy Action Plan
The Agricultural Policy Action Plan (the APAP) is a comprehensive five-year plan, which brings about a degree of certainty in regard to matters under the department's control.
APAP is guided by the 2030 Vision statement of the NDP and the New Growth Path.
"Following a long process of consultation, NEDLAC has agreed that the APAP should be taken to Cabinet as soon as possible and I will be doing so during March. This will be our consensus document for the next period, and I hope you have all taken account of what is intended," the minister said.
Jobs and infrastructure
The minister said to date, R2.6 billion has been invested and 240 000 jobs created. Completed projects include a soya processing plant, two abattoirs, seven pack houses, 1 700 km of fencing and three bridges.
She said on-going work was being done on four irrigation schemes, on an animal vaccine laboratory, and the construction of fresh produce markets.
The minister said the Infrastructure Bill, approved this week in the National Assembly, will ensure that these projects are not delayed by regulatory requirements or other obstacles.
South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa which is food secure, although there are still major challenges in ensuring that every person and every household has sufficient and nutritious food at all times.
Last year, Cabinet approved the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy, which includes a Household Food and Nutrition Security Strategy, driven by the Department of Social Development, as well as a Food Production Initiative which are running under the banner of Fetsa Tlala.
"We aim to see one million hectares of under-utilised, communal land under production, driven by communities and supported by government," said Minister Joemat-Pettersson.
She singled out the sale of 268 tons of maize and beans to the World Food Programme for delivery to Lesotho. "This maize came from 88 smallholder farmers who had been supported in different ways to reach commercial production.
"The World Food Programme is very fussy about what it buys, so we should all be proud of the fact that these new entrants managed to meet the high standards. In a short time, these farmers have graduated from subsistence farmers to being export producers.
"This is a concrete demonstration of our commitment to transforming the sector in a way that builds upon what is good, and opens opportunities for those who are ready to take these," she said.
As South Africa is no longer restricted to exports red meat due to the Food and Mouth Disease (FMD), the minister said the department will focus on maintaining this FMD free status though monitoring the movement of livestock.