It is disheartening that the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is failing on one of its core mandates, which is to focus on the commercialisation of smallholder farmers. In partnership with the Land Bank, R1, 95 billion has been allocated over the next three years to assist emerging farmers to participate in the mainstream agriculture economy.
This money is meant for commercialising producers, especially black producers that are experiencing challenges in accessing the markets, finance, and technical support, as well as the lack of skill and capacity to be competitive.
TIA Farming Projects started with aquaculture in 2018, realising a market opportunity in farming with tilapia as an untapped market. Due to the quality of their product, they were inundated with orders and could not keep up with the need, which was a challenge.
TIA Farming Projects approached a venture capital firm to assist with funds. However, the department also approached the company and was excited about getting involved in aquaculture and offered to provide financing. The farm then declined the available venture capital and waited on the department’s promises for assistance when an Environmental Impact Assessment by the department was embarked on in 2019.
It is now more than three years later, and this company has still not received a single cent from a department that has promised them heaven and earth to a new start-up company. To survive and cover the cost of electricity and feed they have now started growing cucumbers in the shade houses that previously housed 10 tilapia tanks.
This department that promised to develop and grow farmers has destroyed the potential of promising lucrative farming enterprises. In its false promise the department has also spurned the opportunity for private sector investment via possible venture capital funds. This creates an unattractive environment in the agricultural sector as a result of the department not providing certainty around support for the sector. This only hampers job creation and economic growth in the province.
A DA government proposes the following:
• Conduct proper research on exactly what assistance smallholder farmers need;
• Do proper costing and evaluations;
• Provide support in the forms of both grants and loans.
It is high time that this department starts delivering on its core mandate. Through all the mechanisms in place at the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL), we will be pushing for the MEC Mbali Hlophe, to urgently put a turnaround strategy in place, so that smallholder farmers can get the assistance they need.