Chairperson, members of the Cabinet, colleagues, comrades, friends and fellow South Africans, I am privileged to stand before you and address this Parliament on a very emotive issue for our people in the rural and peri-urban areas of our country. Eighteen years into our democracy, South Africa is debating a very important aspect of our economy, food production in rural and peri-urban areas - in short, food security!
We do so against a background where, for the first time in our post-1994 democratic establishment, the focus in our ANC-led government and Parliament has been directed at confronting poverty right where it is felt most, that is, in the rural and peri-urban areas.
Let us thank His Excellency President J G Zuma and his visionary leadership collective for an incisive intervention which has led to the establishment of a dedicated Ministry of Rural Development and Land Reform under the able stewardship of hon Gugile Nkwinti.
During the presidential inauguration on 9 May 2009, His Excellency President Zuma declared to our people and the world that:
For as long as there are rural dwellers unable to make a decent living from the land on which they live; For as long as there are women who are subjected to discrimination, exploitation or abuse; For as long as there are children who do not have the means nor the opportunity to receive a decent education ... we shall not rest, and we dare not falter ...
... in our drive to eradicate poverty.
As the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries we have an unwritten rule that ours is a nonpolitical oversight committee that is bound by a desire to rally the executive and society in general towards a safe, food-secure South Africa that will see all having access to food, and where no one will go to bed hungry.
In pursuance of growth in six key sectors in line with the New Growth Path, among others infrastructure development, agriculture and the economy, to mention but a few, President Zuma further elaborated:
To achieve these goals, we have to build a strong mixed economy, where the state, private sector, co-operative and other forms of social ownership complement each other, to achieve shared and inclusive economic growth.
This is in keeping with our slogan, "Working together we can do more", both as the public and as the private sector.
As far back as 1955, the people of South Africa declared at Kliptown:
The land shall be shared among those who work it!
That beacon of hope, the Freedom Charter, further declared:
Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it, to banish famine and land hunger;
The state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers; Freedom of movement shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land;
All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose;
People shall not be robbed of their cattle, and forced labour and farm prisons shall be abolished.
Among the main objects has been, and continues to be, the curtailment of food insecurity by improving food production and income-generating activities in the rural areas through access to land, water, credit, markets, and research and extension services. So said the ANC Agricultural Policy of 1994.
In addition to rural and peri-urban households that have land in their properties, such land as municipal commonages, unused municipal land and land under the care of local chiefs can be sustainably used to grow food for the rural poor.
However, in some areas commonages are not included in local economic development, LED, or integrated development plans, IDPs, as possible economic development tools. As a result, some commonages are not well managed and have been left as open-access areas with no infrastructure, and where there was infrastructure, it has been damaged. Some of these end up being turned into informal settlements. Unused land in schoolyards, clinics and other government properties can also be sustainably used to produce food for the rural and peri-urban population.
Rural and peri-urban food production can be easily integrated into municipalities' waste management programmes or strategies for recycling of organic waste and by-products, and use of non-conventional water.
Given that South Africa is a water-scarce country and some municipalities are struggling to meet the water needs of their citizens, there should be a strong focus on water-conserving farming practices; cost recovery mechanisms from water-consuming producers; and treatment of waste water for vegetable irrigation.
It should be noted that rural and peri-urban agriculture or food production is not confined to vegetable production and the planting of fruit trees but, where land and resources are available, other options include livestock and poultry production, as well as aquaculture. These, however, should be canvassed in accordance with the relevant national environmental legislation, municipal by-laws and policies regarding environmental protection, management, health and safety.
Due to a lack of transport infrastructure in the rural and peri-urban areas, opportunities for agro-processing exist. These will go a long way in addressing unemployment and enterprise development in these areas, therefore ensuring that smaller numbers of our people migrate to urban areas.
There are a number of rural and peri-urban agriculture projects throughout the country and, although some have been initiated and are supported by municipalities, most have been initiated by community groups, nongovernmental organisations, NGOs, and in some cases, academic institutions. There is a need for government in all spheres to upscale such success stories and spread the lessons that have been learnt to other poor rural and peri-urban areas.
Therefore, for rural and peri-urban food production to be successful, as in most cases elsewhere, there needs to be co-ordination and integration of activities by all relevant government agencies and other stakeholders that are involved.
Municipalities should play a central role and, where there is potential, include rural and peri-urban food production initiatives in their local economic development and integrated development plans, IDPs. Other departments and agencies, such as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Water and Environmental Affairs, Eskom, Trade and Industry, the Industrial Development Corporation and Public Works, among others, should also be involved.
Public authorities are expected to take responsibility for securing the required resources, especially land and small plots within and around rural towns and cities, as well as sufficient water and other infrastructure.
There is a need for adequate agricultural technical training programmes and supervision or extension services to producers. Equally, there is a need to promote and finance greater links between production, agro-processing and marketing for more self-reliant rural food systems, and more local employment and revenues.
There is also a need for greater decentralisation of agricultural policy from central to municipal governments, and for support to rural, locally relevant food production and sustainable rural and peri-urban food practices.
When all of this is said and done, the question that remains is: How can one best move beyond mere subsistence farming? Your surplus must be able to reach the markets. One of those programmes that we have is a programme that seeks to bring hunger down to zero. When all of the food is produced, access in schools, in clinics and in prisons, among others, should be made possible with all the integrated and collaborative efforts by all in government in the national, provincial and local spheres. This cannot be done outside of government support systems.
We have seen the department, in keeping with the Freedom Charter, distributing seed, tractors and infrastructure to the needy, among others. However, what you have in the local rural and peri-urban areas in our country is that the majority of livestock owners happen to be black, yet they contribute minimally towards food production in our country.
This should be a clarion call for more interventions by our own government. More provinces must become involved in livestock improvement programmes like you saw in Mount Frere about a month ago, and also in an area called Fort Cox in the Eastern Cape. These are programmes that are aimed at taking cattle from being in a position where they will not fetch a price, even below R4 000 or R5 000, to a price in relation to their own feedlots, which are being supported. The cattle will find themselves in a position where they are marketable.
Our parliamentary committee that deals with Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has also been able to address one of the critical areas with regard to support by the department and also by society in general in those rural communities.
The doctors for those animals are called veterinarians, and are a very, very scarce resource. We have been able, as I said, to pass legislation on veterinary and para-veterinary professional services. Today we were informed that the NCOP has received this legislation. This law is, among other things, aimed at getting to a stage where we can say that our people in the rural areas will no longer find it difficult to access services from veterinarians and para-veterinarians. When this law comes into effect, we are going to have a year when these veterinarians, upon their having passed their degrees, will go out into the field, especially in rural areas, to assist our people out there in making a difference for the better in their lives.
In conclusion, food production cannot be a political football in our country, which has shifted from being a net exporter of food to being a net importer of processed food. We all have a responsibility in turning the tide. Indeed, South Africa can be better than yesterday, if we focus on our working towards food for all in our country. I thank you. [Applause.]