President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday encouraged stakeholders in the agricultural sector to make a maximum contribution to economic growth and job creation among previously disadvantaged and economically excluded people.

Zuma said small-holder farmers, in particular black farmers, had been strictly confined to economic participation in the informal sector while large commercial farmers were operating within the formal economy with footprints right along the value chain for far too long.

Zuma was speaking at the Westonaria Agri-Park, west of Johannesburg, as part of a site visit. The agri-parks are aimed at revitalising and transforming the agricultural and rural economies. Ministers of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana, accompanied Zuma.

“[The Agri-Parks Programme] is an important contribution towards unlocking the value chain for smallholder farmers, cooperatives and SMMEs so that they too can participate in a meaningful manner in our country’s agricultural economy,” Zuma said.

“The programme forms part of our investment in the development of smallholder farmers so that they can move from the informal sector towards greater integration and participation within the mainstream, commercial agricultural economy.”

The Agri-Parks Programme has become the cornerstone of the government’s priority to revitalise the agriculture and agro-processing value chains, which is also one of the priorities of the government’s nine-point plan.

The Westonaria Agri-Park was established to take advantage of the West Rand’s high-value horticulture and aquaculture potential by focusing on agri-business and agro-processing.

Zuma said government had taken a conscious decision to revitalise the agricultural sector and looked up to this sector to create more jobs for people.

He said the intention of the agri-parks programme was to ensure that farmers own at least 70 percent of the wealth creation opportunities created by the programme.

“This programme is part of our drive to radically transform the South African economy so that it brings millions of African people including women, youth and people with disabilities into productive activities and ownership within the mainstream economy,” Zuma said.

“Through the agri-parks programme we want to bring 300,000 new small holder farmers into the agricultural sector and to create 145,000 new agro-processing jobs. It is also aimed at bringing one million hectares of land into production. It is therefore a very important programme for government and the people.”

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, working together with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, over the last 18 months, conducted an assessment of the economic potential of each of the 44 districts in the country.

The purpose was to assist government to make informed decisions on which commodities to prioritise in each district.

– African News Agency (ANA