My home province, Eastern Cape, has not been very good at maximising its agricultural potential. But, that doesn’t mean there is absolutely nothing happening on the ground.
For instance, one-third of country’s fresh milk and wool is produced from the Eastern Cape. The province is also a key producer of citrus, with new emerging farmers joining the industry and leading the way into export markets.
There is also the rise of new commercial grain and oilseed farmers in areas around the Matatiele, Ugie and Maclear towns. Most of which benefited from the support of organised agriculture, as well as other private investors. The province’s 2016/17 total commercial maize production reached 97 300 tonnes, a 28% recovery from the previous season (although this makes a mere 0.5% of South African maize production).
Moreover, the province holds enormous potential for agricultural development, which could bring new entrants to the agricultural sector and create much-needed jobs. A study by McKinsey Global Institutes showed that the bulk opportunity for development in the Eastern Cape exists in the 250 kilometres stretch between East London and Queenstown, where there is suitable unused land.
However, for this to materialise the province requires investments to bring the new agricultural land to its full arable potential. Capital is needed for activities such as soil preparation, irrigation facilities and farm infrastructure, amongst others.
Unfortunately, this tends to be a stumbling block to unlocking the province’s economic possibilities. The World Bank, in its 2016 Africa’s Pulse report, observed that insecure property rights over land remain a key constraint to Africa’s agricultural productivity. The Eastern Cape province is no different from many African countries, as farmers in communal areas continue to see limited capital investments.
As things stand, the way to unlock the value of land in the Eastern Cape would be by means of improving the security of ownership to land, in order to attract new capital for investment into the sector.
Moreover, increased support to emerging smallholder farmers by organised agriculture could also play a crucial role in skills development. The government could play a role by increasing its support to emerging smallholder organisations, through additional finance and capacity, to strengthen collective marketing schemes and farmer development programmes.
The agricultural sector presents a number of opportunities for the Eastern Cape province. However, this potential will continue to be hindered by the current communal land situation/status quo and lack of infrastructure and support mechanism. There’s a need for bold steps in order to unlock investments and create jobs in the province. Maybe then, the discussion about the province’s agricultural economic standing will hopefully change to a positive outlook.
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