KZN invests in strategic programmes to boost farmers

The magnitude and the success of the agri-hubs to support the stimulation of the economy in the province depend on planning. Photo: File

The magnitude and the success of the agri-hubs to support the stimulation of the economy in the province depend on planning. Photo: File

Published Jan 29, 2024


THE KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (KZNDard) is to continue to invest in strategic programmes aimed at the lucrative agricultural sector to bolster economic growth and job creation and to help alleviate poverty in the province.

This as the South African agricultural sector has doubled in value and volume terms over the past three decades, according to Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) – a significant contributor to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In an interview with Business Report, Zibusiso Dlamini, the KZN Department of Agriculture and Rural Development head of department, said one such programme was the agri-hub programme, providing secondary and tertiary value addition centres for primary agricultural products.

The magnitude and the success of the agri-hubs to support the stimulation of the economy in the province depended on planning.

“Currently, the department has embarked on feasibility studies and value chain analysis, the development of business plans and concept designs. Linked to this phase are the EIA (environmental impact assessment) processes, geotechnical investigations and the development of the aggregation strategy.

“This planning phase commenced in November 2020 and is approaching completion, with most of the activities listed above complete,” Dlamini said.

Sites had been identified for all the hubs and provincial approval from the property owners had been received. The process of the formal acquisition of the sites involved the Department of Public Works and was in line with its mandate to take the process forward in ensuring that property-related contracts were concluded and the properties were registered in the state’s asset register, he said.

KZNDard said an application was launched with the Budget Facility for Infrastructure (BFI) for the funding of all the agri-hubs. In response to the application, the BFI had approved a budget of R153 million for the development of the fresh produce hub. The allocation for the financial year 2023/24 was R8 400 000.

For the red meat hub (pig and sheep), the department recently informed by the aggregation strategy took a decision to segment the red meat hub into two, that is, the red meat hub (beef) at Zululand and the red meat hub (sheet and pig) at uMgungundlovu.

The plan for 2023/24, subject to approval, was to have contractors on site as at the beginning of the financial year 2024/25 for both the fresh produce hub and the red meat hub (sheep and pig), while concluding the plans for the remaining hubs for implementation in the outer years.

Last year, which saw the department joined by a new MEC, Super Zuma, was said to have been an exceptionally good year as the department had implemented critical programmes aimed at assisting farmers and improving the agricultural sector in the province. Programmes introduced included community investment programmes, township agriculture and the livestock improvement programme.

The community investment programme assisted communal livestock farmers with infrastructure such as dip tanks, boreholes and the fencing of grazing camps.

In line with the cannabis master plan, the department opened applications for hemp permits and received 649 applications. All applicants were said to be assisted through the process and were now permit holders.

The department added that it was continuously assisting producers within KZN to curb food insecurity and to participate in the mainstream economy with various interventions and programmes.

Challenges facing the sector

However, Dlamini said KZN, the country’s second-largest GDP contributor after Gauteng, faced several challenges that affected agricultural development, resulting in arable land lying fallow and being under-utilised.

In response, the department had intervened with an aggressive and holistic multi-planting season approach aimed at providing extensive resources, production inputs and mechanisation.

Load shedding continued to be a major challenge as most agricultural produce was perishable, resulting in farmers requiring back-up power, increasing production costs.

Furthermore, load shedding was a serious threat to the survival of emerging farmers, who had limited resources, he said.

“It is a challenge to continue to perform optimally as not all facilities have back-up systems. For those that do have them, diesel costs have escalated, making it difficult to procure diesel in time due to budget constraints.

“Livestock enterprises are the most affected. Poultry production projects (broilers and layers projects) require electricity for 24 hours for production.”

Dlamini said electricity would be off for four hours in some instances, resulting in broiler farmers suffering, especially in the winter season, where the brooder played an important role in keeping the chickens warm and avoiding premature deaths.

This had also resulted in job losses as some of the projects decreased their production or collapsed as they weren’t able to sustain themselves, and acted as an entry barrier for potential farmers who might be considering joining the agricultural sector.

High fertiliser and diesel prices on account of the unresolved Russia-Ukraine war had negatively affected production costs as well.

Last year was also not a great year for poultry farmers in South Africa and KwaZulu-Natal as a number of poultry farms experienced outbreaks of avian influenza.

This year, the provincial department said it would continue implementing different programmes to assist households to achieve food security and to ensure that emerging farmers were thriving amid the looming challenges.

Having piloted township agriculture in uMgungundlovu and eThekwini, the programme would be taken to other districts in the province this year. This programme was aimed at ensuring that households in the township areas could produce their own crops for consumption.

Through the community investment programme, more communal infrastructure would be developed and rehabilitated to support livestock farmers in the rural communal areas.

The communal beef improvement (CBI) was another livestock programme that would be intensified this year. This programme sought to improve the genetic potential of the communal beef herd through the flushing, synchronisation and introduction of artificial insemination (AI) and follow-up bulls with superior genetics.

Dlamini said the department was also planning to continue to support smallholder farmers with infrastructure development.

He said the advancement of the previously marginalised group was the key objective of the Department of Agriculture.

“The overall goal is to create opportunities for previously disadvantaged people to participate in the mainstream economy and to support their participation in transformation of the agricultural sector.

“It is through the implementation of the various departmental programmes and interventions that all this will be realised and achieved,” he said.

Agriculture in statistics

Agbiz said agriculture exports reached record levels of $12.8 billion (R240bn) in 2022, with employment also at the highest levels since the early 1990s, at 956 000 in the third quarter of 2023.

The country has also improved its food security conditions and is ranked 59th out of 113 countries in The Economist’s Global Food Security Index, making it the most food secure in sub-Saharan Africa and reflecting the increase in agricultural output.