AGRICULTURE

Fertile soil

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The Eastern Cape Province has some of South Africa’s most arable land. Whether one looks at the fertile Lankloof Valley or the coffee and tea plantations of Magwa, the agriculture sector in the region has been blossoming for a while—and there is still more scope to grow.

Speaking at the recent commemoration of World Food Day at Mbongweni village in Bizana, Eastern Cape, Agriculture Minister, Senzeni Zokwana, said agriculture can play a significant role in winning the fight against poverty. At the official opening of Grain SA’s Eastern Cape offices in Maclear, Minister Zokwana also said, "The National Development Plan (NDP) is clear about the fact that agriculture needs to play the dual role of providing food and jobs. The Eastern Cape is the area in our country where food production, especially maize, soy beans and sorghum production can be expanded.”

Considered as one of leaders in agricultural and rural development in the province, the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA) resulted from an integration of the Eastern Cape Rural Finance Corporation (ECRFC) and the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiatives of South Africa – Eastern Cape (AsgiSA-EC).

According to Thozi Gwanya, CEO of ECRDA, the establishment of the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency is the beginning of an exciting yet challenging assignment for those  “getting their hands dirty” in what is often an overwhelming rural development space. “By its very nature, rural development is a complex and highly contested terrain with varying ideas on how best to address the challenges that confront rural communities and the hinterland. An integrated and multi-disciplinary approach is needed to address the various challenges that confront rural communities.

“Working with rural communities is an equally rewarding experience as rural people themselves are active participants and hold the key to their own development. This is the essence of why we exists. It seeks to pull together public and social resources that improve livelihoods while simultaneously developing sustainable rural economies and communities in the Eastern Cape. It seeks to leverage off strategic partnerships with the village being the centre of operation for a maximum and pronounced development impact,” he says.  

Gwanya says that for this reason, the integration of the Eastern Cape Rural Finance Corporation (ECRFC) and the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa – Eastern Cape (AsgiSA-EC), which resulted in the birth of the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA), creates a holistic approach to rural development in the province. He points out that this integration should accelerate the implementation of high impact priority projects resulting in the desired development impact. Part of the agency’s focus has been on optimal use of available land for cropping and livestock development. According to Gwanya, these programmes encourage individual rural land owners to produce food not only for sustenance but for commercialisation as well as income generation.

“This approach not only addresses food security, it also contributes to local economic development and reduces the excessive dependency on social grants. The organisation is also promoting entrepreneurship through rural finance and support programmes. Rural areas must not be seen as ‘consumption areas’ who buy all their food items from the big chain stores—even those commodities that they can produce such as vegetables, maize, beans, chicken, wood and poles. The ECRDA provides loans and technical assistance to rural entrepreneurs who are serious about change, who want to make a difference.

“We are therefore determined to develop, institutionalise and sustain an effective, capable and fit-for-purpose organisation including best-in-class project management, targeted research and an innovation driven agency. The ECRDA shall live up to its vision and mission statement and thus bring the desired change in the quality of life of the rural Communities,” he says.

There are currently a number of high impact priority programmes in place which aims at creating a vibrant rural economy through loan finance products as well as the effective coordination and implementation thereof. This should result in innovative and maximum use of available land for cropping, forestry and livestock programmes.

Looking at the potential of forestry in the province, the Agency has its sights set on planting 65 000 hectares of plantations. “We are equally proud that with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC), the agency has entered into a R200 million Jobs Fund agreement with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). This fund aims to empower local communities to participate and benefit from the local forestry developments as well as agri-processing thereby creating job opportunities and income streams. A total of R113 million of this amount has been allocated to forestry development."

Similarly, the ECRDA is aware that the Eastern Cape possesses a significant potential for livestock development. The province has the highest number of cattle, sheep, goats, chicken and horses in South Africa. The agency has spent more than R14,1 million on buying bulls and pregnant heifers of various beef breeds as a ‘seed for production’. This should create wealth opportunities for rural communities with links to markets. The organisation has also thrown its weight behind an ostrich project in Peddie some 107 km from the economic hub of East London. The project boasts 66 beneficiaries with eight hectares of land for feedlots.

The agency also encourages those who own land to, “not only to produce food for themselves, but also to grow enough in order to sell to others thereby creating a revenue stream for their families and communities. This approach to rural development has a ripple empowering socio-economic effect. It not only allows individual families to make money in order to send their children to school and to meet other social needs—it encourages the optimal use of the land by communities and to view the land as an asset and a source of wealth creation.”

In addition, the organisation has been playing a social facilitation role on a number of forestry projects involving the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR). According to the ECRDA, there exists an opportunity to integrate existing DAFF plantations into new afforestation projects to increase economies of scale and offer the opportunity for immediate implementation during the delays of the forestry licensing process.

Ameera Daniels

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