Agriculture vital tool for economic transformation

Westonaria - President Jacob Zuma says agriculture is one of the powerful tools that can unearth jobs and realise the goal of radical socio-economic transformation.

Addressing dozens of residents in the West Rand at the Westonaria Agri-Parks on Tuesday, President Zuma said government wants to bring approximately 300 000 new smallholder farmers into the agricultural sector and to create 145 000 new agro-processing jobs through the Agri-Parks Programme.

The programme is also aimed at bringing one million hectares of land into production.

The intention of the Agri-parks Programme is to ensure that farmers own at least 70% of the wealth creation opportunities created by the programme. We look up to the agricultural sector to create more jobs for our people, said President Zuma.

He said Agri-Parks are part of government's drive to radically transform the South African economy so that millions of African people, including women, youth and people with disabilities, are brought into productive activities and ownership within the mainstream economy.

The key pillars of the programme include supporting producers and helping them to get markets to sell their produce. It is also about fast tracking land reform.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and other spheres of government, is rolling out the Agri-Parks Programme to all 44 districts in the country.

We want to see the Agri-Parks Programme contributing to the growth and development of the economy. We remain resolute in our commitment to build a better South Africa and create opportunities for all of our people, said the President.

Putting the land to good use

Ahead of his address, President Zuma conducted a site visit to various agri-projects in the area. He spoke to some of the staff members already working on site.

The President said he was impressed that Agri-Parks were creating jobs for people with disabilities.

There were 10 gardens of lettuce, run by a group of 10 young people with disabilities. The young farmers told the President that they have a dream of expanding their gardens so that they can employ more deaf people, and they hope to create jobs for deaf people in other provinces across the country because it is difficult for deaf people to get jobs.

They said they already have a market and they supply their products to companies.

The Director at the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Motlatjo Makaepea, told SAnews that six of the seven Agri-Parks in the province are almost complete. Some are partially functioning, while one is still under construction.

The one in Westonaria is a farmer support production unit. We have infrastructure for primary production, which is the hydroponics tunnels, where we use the old conventional technology. We also have a high-tech hydroponics tunnel.

We have a pack house, where the produce is packaged after it has been harvested. In the pack house, we have cold rooms. We also have an office facility that is used by the three co-ops which are operating from inside, and also the farmers. We also have a training room where farmers will receive training, said Makaepea.

He said the Agri-Park has about 60 people currently working on site, including farmers and co-ops, but the department has a target of increasing the number to 150.

Makaepea said there is a possibility that more than 150 jobs will be created at this Agri-Park alone because there are farmers who work at their own sites, who need some of the facilities at the Agri-Park.

Structure of Agri-Parks Programme

The Agri-Parks Programme is underpinned by 10 guiding principles, namely:

There will be one Agri-Park per District Municipality.

Agri-Parks are managed and owned by smallholder farmers.

Agri-Parks act as the catalyst around which rural industrialisation will take place.

Agri-parks will be supported by government for 10 years to ensure economic sustainability.

Agri-Parks will strengthen partnerships between government and private sector by ensuring increased access to services such as water, energy and transport as well as production, while strengthening existing markets and creating new markets to develop and expand value chains.

Agri-Parks will maximise benefits to existing State land with agricultural potential in the provinces, where possible.

Agri-Parks will maximise access to markets for all farmers, with a bias to black farmers and rural communities.

Agri-Parks will catalyse the use of high value agricultural land. Too much of it lies fallow in rural areas.

Agri-Parks will widen the use of existing agro-processing, bulk and logistics infrastructure, including having availability of water, energy and roads.

Agri-parks will support the revitalisation of rural towns and promote rural urban linkages.

Source: South African Government News Agency

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