By– SAnews.gov.za – Gabi Khumalo
Making a living in farming is not easy. For many small scale farmers, commercial farming is hard. For small farmers wanting to make a living in the sector, the challenges can almost seem insurmountable.
Many small farmers fail due to lack of support, education and the necessary skills that are needed to make commercial farming a success.
However, all this is about to change. Thanks to the launch of the Agri-parks programme by government, struggling small farmers will now be able to become successful farm owners.
Government launched the Agri-parks programme in 2015 as one of the cornerstones of rural economic transformation. Led by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, the programme provides communities with jobs, food security and opportunities to prosper.
The National Developmental Plan (NDP) sees agriculture as having the potential to create close to one million jobs by 2030. It states that commercial agriculture has the potential to create 250 000 direct jobs and a further 130 000 indirect jobs. And officials say the Agri-parks programme is just one way towards realising these jobs targets.
The programme offers a one stop shop for agro-production, processing, logistics, marketing and training within district municipalities.
South Africa’s Agri-parks offer comprehensive services along the various commodity value chains.
Government says the initiative will contribute to developing 300 000 new small holder farmers and 145 000 jobs in agro-processing.
Gauteng resident, 33-year-old Lindiwe Nakana, is one of hundreds of people who are set to benefit from the Agri-parks initiative. She is a member of a business called Noncebo Corporate and says she’s looking forward to the opening of an Agri-park in her area as beneficiaries would be able to generate more income and support their families.
The opportunity could not have come at a better time for Nakana, her unemployed husband and three children.
In November 2015, Noncebo Corporate received an offer from the department to attend a seven-day training programme in Pretoria. There, its members learned about the latest technology in agriculture such as operating a watering machine using a computer.
“This Agri-park has all the resources like generators, water and electricity, and now we also know how to operate all the machines installed here. I wouldn’t have afforded all these, regardless of my knowledge in farming. Our dreams of becoming successful farm owners are possible,” says Nakana.
Ndivhuho Ranwedzi, a Director of Rural Infrastructure Development at the Department of Rural Development and Land says through the programme, government intends to develop Agri-parks in each of the 44 district municipalities, with 27 of the poorest district municipalities being prioritised.
About R2 billion has been earmarked over the 2015/16 financial year to kick-start the programme.
Each Agri-park has three distinct entities. The Farmer Production Support Unit (FPSU) is linked with farmers and markets; each park also has the Agri-hub, which helps with production, equipment hire, processing, packaging, logistics and innovation, as a training unit.
The Agri-parks also includes the Rural Urban Market Centre (RUMC), which links the farmers to international markets.
The RUMC acts as a holding-facility, releasing produce to urban markets based on seasonal trends. It provides market intelligence and information feedback using the latest information and communication technologies.
Ranwedzi says although there were no plans in place, when the programme was announced, most provinces like Gauteng have made huge strides as the construction of Agri-parks are almost complete to assist the farmers.
Three areas have been identified in the West Rand – Tarlton, Bekkersdal and Merafong.
Ten production tunnels have been completed in Tarlton, but have not gone on full scale and only two people are currently working and helping with the growing of spinach.
In Bekkersdal, construction is still ongoing and tunnels have been completed and the workers are currently busy dealing with the drilling of water sources for irrigation.
Ranwedzi says Agri-hubs should be able to employ not less than 50 people. The whole Agri-hub concept that is linking farmers, tunnels to Agri-hub is expected to create employment for about 200 people. The land allocated for the construction of an Agri-hub is about 50 hectares.
“The Agri-hub would be able to employ more people and the major part of the production would be happening there because the grading, the cleaning, packaging and distribution would be on that side,” says Ranwedzi. The Agri-parks programme will be rolled out in all the provinces.