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03 May 2012 17:05
One of the priority areas on which the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) focuses is supporting farmers who have either bought land or received land through reform.
But how easy is it for farmers to access these support services?
Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, member of the executive council (MEC) for agriculture and rural development in Gauteng, says there are two approaches the department uses as part of this revitalisation strategy.
“Farmers can request assistance through the numerous agriculture field officers we have in the province.
However, the department pro-actively reaches out to farmers during farmer’s days and agricultural study groups.
These study groups are similar to farmer field schools, where there are extension officers providing the link to farmers in their wards and the services that the department is rendering in the communities,” says Mayathula-Khoza.
While these activities generate significant interest among the farming communities of Gauteng, two key elements need to be considered: access to land and access to finance.
A helping hand
“We work closely with the department of rural development and land reform to ensure that people get access to land.
There is a turnaround time of approximately six months from the identification of a farmer to providing him/her with access to land,” she says.
But once the land access issue has been resolved, the concern moves to financing.
“We have a programme to assist with finance. The department links farmers to financial institutions such as the Land Bank and other commercial banks to ensure that they receive the assistance they need from a monetary perspective.”
The department even goes so far as to assist farmers with the job at hand: farming.
Mayathula-Khoza says that they sit with farmers and engage with them on other areas in which they need assistance. This ranges from helping them develop their business and production plans, to pulling in technology development and support where required.
The next step is farm assistance, which could be viewed as “farm systems research”, she says.
“Once you guide a farmer on farming, you can then guide them on the resources available on the farm and the most effective ways of utilising those resources.
As a department we work on the limitations and the achievements of the farmers to really develop a customised approach. There is one-on-one engagement with farmers as well as group extensions through the aforementioned study groups,” she says.
Nurturing the seed
Currently, the department engages with 1 080 farmers. It aims to grow this number by 400 active farmers annually, despite the fact that the majority of them are on the outskirts of the province.
Mahlogedi Victor Thindisa, manager of agribusiness support at the department, says the department has identified the areas in Gauteng that are suitable for the different types of farming.
To this end, the three main classifications are high agriculture land, medium to high agriculture land and medium agriculture land.
“We zone these areas and identify the relevant agricultural hubs.
Due to the characteristics of the province, these hubs are designed for specific enterprises such as livestock, vegetables, flowers, etc. As a department, we are aware what municipalities require specific activities to maximise the areas of agriculture. However, we simply advise and do not force these activities on municipalities and farmers,” says Mayathula-Khoza.
As part of this process, the department not only studies the soil and resources in the province but also conducts commodity suitability studies, which are readily available and shared with the farmers. Officials also conduct feasibility studies to assist farmers when they take ownership of their land.
“We pull in crop and irrigation specialists, assist with economic planning, conduct the feasibility study, and analyse the commodities of a farm.
Furthermore, the Gauteng Agriculture Potential Atlas shows the provincial hubs and how they are classified in terms of agricultural development,” says Tediso Molepo, deputy director of macro economics and statistics at the GDACE.
The hubs reflect the commodities that are suitable for the areas. For instance, the western areas of Gauteng are ideal for high value commodities such as flowers and vegetables, ranging from turnips and cucumbers to lettuce and cherry tomatoes. Similarly, the southern areas are more focused on grain, while the northern areas are good for livestock.
All told, the department is committed to ensuring that farmers in Gauteng receive all the support they need. This is done not only to ensure that the farms are a success, but that people are empowered with the food production skills and entrepreneurial opportunities they need to sell their produce to other citizens and in the markets throughout the province.
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