Food security is a major concern for new minister
NEW Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Peterson seems unfazed by the massive challenges she faces.
As former MEC for agriculture in Northern Cape Joemat-Peterson is not really a "newie" in this sector.
The key challenges she faces include ensuring that the agricultural sector provides food security for all South Africans, while on the other hand remaining commercially viable. The situation is further compounded by the need to redress the unequal access to land that South Africa continues to face as part of the apartheid legacy.
An unfortunate development in this regard is the fact that in many instances where the government moved to redress the inequality, there have been major obstacles.
For example, there has been instances where the government had to repossess land from beneficiaries of the land reform process because they could not utilise the land productively.
For instance, earlier this year the then minister of agriculture and land affairs Lulu Xingwana repossessed an ostrich farm owned by a black farmer.
Xingwana said then that she was implementing the government's policy of "use it or lose it" to ensure a commercially viable agricultural sector.
In 2006 the Limpopo government repossessed 71 black-owned farms which were allocated to land reform beneficiaries "because they could not use the land productively".
Joemat-Peterson has made an undertaking to stop this process. Speaking in Parliament last week she said,: "The repossessing of black-owned farms only defeats the ANC's goal of getting 30percent of the country's land into the hands of black people."
She said the government would look at restructuring any debt owed by black farmers so that they did not lose their farms.
"Where farmers have lost their land the state will seek to recovered those farms to make sure that the land stays in the hands of black capital," Joemat-Peterson said.
One of the criticisms against the land reform programme is that the government did not provide post- settlement support for the beneficiaries.
To deal with the situation Joemat-Peterson made a commitment that the state would "invest heavily" in emerging black farmers.
Joemat-Peterson also said that as a way to deal creatively with the situation in which the largest part of arable land remained in the hands of white farmers, her ministry would encourage white farmers to go and farm elsewhere in South Africa or to go into joint ventures with black farmers.
"If we want to take 30percent of the land for black farmers there has to be an alternative for white farmers. We know we are going to reduce their ownership of land," Joemat-Peterson said.
The outspoken Joemat-Peterson also vowed to deal with the abuse of farm workers by farmers.
"We will clamp down forcefully on the abuse of farm workers.
"where basic incomes are compromised we are going to have punitive systems put in place," she said.
She said the government could not afford a situation in which it was trying to develop rural areas but rural people were at the same time heading to the cities as a result of being abused by farmers.
Joemat-Peterson said her ministry intended to create "agri-villages" in partnership with white farmers.
"Rather than farm workers living in sub-human conditions, the state could take over and provide them with water, electricity and sewerage in these villages," she said.
She also said that South Africa was spearheading a debate in Africa on the "decommodification" of basic foodstuffs. Joemat-Peterson said cutting the prices of basic foods would be discussed at the African Union summit in Libya set for July 1.
Another major challenge she intends tackling is the issue of fish quotas. Over the past 15 years many black fishermen have complained that they were left without livelihoods after the government reduced their quotas and gave them mainly to big companies.
"This definitely needs to be re-evaluated. The panel will look at how the quotas were allocated and how many opportunities might arise if we revised the situation," she said.