Lack of strategy hinders agro-processing growth
MEC Oupa Khabane says lack of access to markets by emerging farmers also proving a major setback
The Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development says its failure to come up with a pointed strategy to promote agro-processing has seen most farm produce leaving the province in a state to be processed elsewhere at the expense of the provincial economy.
Free State agriculture and rural development MEC Oupa Khabane told The Weekly in an interview during the first ever Agro-Processing Summit held in Bloemfontein from April 11-12 that the provincial department acknowledged there were a number of factors contributing to the limited growth for agro-processing in the province.
Khoabane said besides not having a solid departmental strategy to support agro-processing, lack of access to markets by emerging farmers had also proved a major setback.
He said this was particularly evident in agro-processing because black farmers were often discouraged by the behaviour of big corporations as well as the high prices for feed and other value chain items required to produce quality products for the markets.
The MEC said the two-day summit was therefore very important as it sought to find ways to make agriculture more profitable at all levels.
“This event is very important as we seek to craft a strategy that will help us ensure that we develop our economy by emphasising manufacturing in the agricultural sector,” said Khoabane.
“By doing that, it means our primary products will not leave the province without being processed. This is very important because by adding value to our produce, we will also be creating jobs because all the different stages of the value chain require different skills,” he added.
The MEC noted it was important for farmers as the primary producers to meet with manufacturers, who make up the secondary industry, together with other stakeholders to find ways of improving their working relations and in the process promote economic growth.
“You can’t process without expanding the production of raw materials or the primary goods.
“We want to assist farmers through various programmes to improve their production. We have noted the importance of developing the secondary industry, focusing on processing.
And when you add suppliers to the value chain, it means you are actually creating more jobs. This in turn, would result in more supplies of farm produce and at the same time, the workers can receive better incomes and the economy would improve,” Khoabane explained.
Due to its rural nature and diverse natural resource base, the Free State has always had a thriving agricultural economy and has been referred to as the “bread basket” of South Africa.
This was however, no longer the situation as the sector was now under severe and sustained stress for some time because agricultural development initiatives were experiencing an unprecedented rate of failure due to several and often interrelated factors. Some of these include human, institutional, infrastructure and environmental natural resource limitations.
Khoabane said it was for this reason that the province took a decision to host the Agro-Processing Summit and develop a strategy to complement the production of primary commodities to increase production of value added items of high value for domestic and international markets.
The meeting also created a platform for stakeholder engagement aimed at economic growth, job creation, and enhancement of a provincial competitive advantage.
It also came up with a strategy to develop Agri-Parks and ensure alignment with national priorities and policy directives.