Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza’s commitment to have almost 10 000 agricultural extension officers will boost the development of land-reform programme beneficiaries and smallholder farmers.
Her intentions are truly inspirational, showing government commitment to rekindle the class of black commercial farmers which was deliberately destroyed by the Native Land Act of 1913. Didiza reiterated this during the recent smallholder horticulture empowerment and promotion approach (Shep) webinar in partnership with the Japan International Co-operation Agency. The Shep is a programme geared to assist smallholder producers to increase their income through improving their productivity. It also aims to assist farmers with better management practices, embracing the concept of farming as a business, as well as aiming for producers to start with a market, as opposed to starting with production and seeking markets thereafter.
It is clear that agricultural extension officers and the service they provide to farmers will bring about dramatic change in a foreseeable future. The results are already showing, with smallholder horticulture co-operatives like Ratanang Co-operative in Mankweng area in Limpopo Province and the Atlas Fresh Produce Primary Co-operative in Bulwer, KwaZulu-Natal, being recent beneficiaries of the advisory services.
The co-operatives are also gaining more skills from a programme partnering with Shep, where they have managed to secure markets at the local level. Farmers are starting to realise the large potential in the horticulture sector and the concept of “farming as business”.
Didiza acknowledge that there are critical areas which need to be addressed first before the sector becomes more inclusive and attractive. Such critical issues she hinted, include access to land, water, extension and advisory services, finances, markets and access to research and technology.
MPHAHLELA M. RAMMUTLA