While Gauteng isn't known as an agricultural force, farming plays a major role in the province's economy.
The Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development (GDARD) has a long-term view of the province that will surprise many: it wants the province to be a mecca for small, rural farmers.
“There are 20 000 small rural farmers in Gauteng with access to anything from five to eight hectares of land. We have identified hubs throughout the province where we will drive our high value farming commodities such as vegetable and livestock production,” says Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, member of the executive council (MEC) of the GDARD.
These hubs reflect the commodities best suited for those areas: flowers and vegetables in the west, grain in the south and livestock in the north, according to the GDARD.
The commodity approach
The challenge comes in with the maximisation of the small rural farmers.
“As a department, we are looking at a range of technology solutions to ensure that the smallholdings of land are maximised,” she says.
Water efficiency, bio-technology and mechanisations are just some areas the department has been looking at.
Mayathula-Khoza says the keys are to have research that factors in all the nuances of the hubs and the smallholdings and, more importantly, to have a link to the food processing programme of the province.
“While we do not have a serious project on climate change, we have done work on sustainability planning.
We want to minimise the impact of farming by working with the Agricultural Research Council on the various commodities of the province. By improving productivity, we also want to minimise plant diseases and pests, and make sure that farmers are profitable,” she says.
The land battle
With Gauteng having the smallest land mass of all the provinces, the department is taking its commitment to ensuring that it effectively manages the land it has available seriously.
Unfortunately, it is facing challenges from the mining and property sectors.
“The biggest concern we have is the perception that Gauteng does not have agriculture.
This spills over to the issue of competing needs. There is a fairly intense fight in terms of how the available land in the province needs to be developed,” she says.
She says that there is an ongoing battle when it comes to using land for residential development and mines who want to enter into the agricultural areas.
“When one looks at the economic returns per unit of land, then agriculture gives you the least value of the three sectors.
However, agriculture is of key strategic importance because it focuses on food security. This in turn talks to the governmental mandate of poverty alleviation, job creation and combating malnutrition.”
She believes that agriculture is more sustainable than mining.
Mining is limited to approximately 30 years unless there is diversification into other branches, she says.
When one looks at agriculture, it is far more effective in terms of sustainability and job creation in the long term.
However, some mines are taking a positive stance on agriculture.
In the West Rand, she says, there are mines that are making land available to farming by leasing it to nearby residents.
One area of agriculture that should not be ignored is its contribution to the manufacturing sector.
“Agriculture contributes to manufacturing more than any other sector. There are contributions to not only basic areas of manufacturing such as clothing, pulp and paper, but also to the more advanced sectors such as furniture.”
She cites the example of maize production in Gauteng and its contribution to the manufacturing sector.
“Maize is used to produce mealie meal and feed for animals.
One only needs to look at companies like Tiger Brands and its competitors to see how they have anchored their products around maize.
The same applies to other forms of agriculture, such as livestock, which can be used to produce skins, hides and other by-products,” she adds.
Thus agriculture provides a primary production component that contributes directly to the economy, says Mayathula-Khoza, but t there is an equally important indirect contribution through the manufacturing and retail sectors.
“After all, half of the products you find in retail stores are either direct or processed agriculture products.
Even the financial services sector feels the impact of agricultural products through bonds and futures. Agriculture contributes throughout the value chain in all sectors of the economy,” she concludes.