The government will be working to strengthen the country's agricultural training institutions over the next five years in order to attract more young South Africans into the sector, says Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana.
Speaking at the Agricultural Youth Summit in Johannesburg on Monday, Zokwana said that agriculture was a key focus of South Africa's National Development Plan (NDP) precisely because of its potential to create jobs.
"While in many emerging markets there are jobs and the potential for more jobs to be created, many young people do not have the skills to meet that demand. South Africa should invest more in agriculture to create those jobs, and in education and training so that the youth can take advantage of them."
He vowed to use his five year-term to establish and strengthen the Agricultural Sector Education Training Authority (AgriSETA) to attract more young people into the sector.
South Africa has the third-highest unemployment rate in the world for people between the ages of 15 to 24, with more than 50% of South Africans in this age-group estimated to be unemployed.
In his State of the Nation address earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma said the government had identified agriculture as a key job driver. "Our target is for the agricultural sector to create a million jobs by 2030," he said, adding that the government would provide comprehensive support to smallholder farmers "by speeding up land reform and providing technical, infrastructural and financial support".
SA 'could be a major international player'
Minister Zokwana said world-class infrastructure, counter-seasonality to Europe, vast biodiversity and marine resources, and competitive input costs could make South Africa a major agricultural player on the world's markets.
"Agro-processing contributed R280-million to the GDP in 2011, which is 20% of the total amount generated by the manufacturing sector. It is the third-largest contributor to GDP within the sector, after chemicals and metals," he said.
Last week, speaking at the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association's annual global forum in Cape Town, Zokwana said the government was ready to work with the private sector "to create an enabling investment environment for entrepreneurs," adding that "effective public - private dialogue and partnerships will be the key in driving the agricultural sector forward".
The private sector needed government support to address market failures, as well as infrastructure, while the government needed information about the obstacles and opportunities that the private sector faced in order to design policy interventions to address these issues, he said.
"As [the] government, we acknowledge that the acceleration of growth will depend on enabling the public and private sectors to build, explore and renew industrial capacities and to take advantage of complementarities between sectors, emerging value chains, and the upgrading of products, processes and functions."