27 August 2020
South Africa’s agriculture sector will grow by about 10% this year, in sharp contrast to the 7% expected contraction in the overall economy due to the impact of Covid-19, according to the Agricultural Business Chamber’s chief economist Wandile Sihlobo.
And he says year-on-year gains of 30% in pineapple production, a 35% jump in maize harvests, and a 13% increase in citrus fruit will have positive implications for economic activity and job creation in the Eastern Cape.
Sihlobo said on Wednesday: “Generally, the SA agricultural sector has come off way better than most of the sectors of the economy.
“For a long time we have not explored the potential the Eastern Cape holds but right now it might be the right time for that focus.”
The provincial agricultural sector makes up about 6% in value of the national total.
Among the direct winners from this year’s crops are farmers and workers in the Bathurst area, who produce about 60% of SA’s pineapples, and East London’s Summerpride, which processes the fruit for export.
Sihlobo said the recent surge in pineapple consumption might have been induced by home brewing drinks during the ban on alcohol during the pandemic.
Maize farmers in Matatiele in the far north-eastern part of the commission can be expected to reap the benefit of a bumper national crop this year.
This group of farmers has thrived in recent years, on the back of a public-private partnership which has brought mentoring and agricultural services within reach.
He said the key driver of the growth was good rainfall throughout the country, which had boosted production across all provinces.
The sector benefited from adequate rainfall last summer and the SA Weather Service’s seasonal climate watch predicts a wet La Niña phase during next summer, which would have a positive impact on summer planting schedules.
He warned, however, that despite the record harvests, “there are still millions of South Africans who are going to bed hungry”.
“The challenge is not necessarily about the affordability of food per se as SA’s food is relatively affordable. Most people just don’t have any income as they are out of work, and many industries have been hit by this pandemic.”
While the maize crop was big, prices remained steady, favouring both producers and consumers.
The Dispatch reported in 2011 that some farmers had gone from producing nothing to almost doubling the then national maize yield of 3.1 tons per hectare.
In 2013, they produced 6,000 tons of maize on roughly 1,200ha. By 2017 the area planted with maize had increased to 4,000ha and the harvest was 28,000 tons, according to data from Matatiele Grainco.
In 2018, 14 farmers had 3,000 tons of maize in an 8,000 tons shipment to Vietnam, the first time they had exported anywhere. In total, their production of 8,658 tons was estimated to have been sold for R18.7m.
Sihlobo said the successes in Matatiele had come through public private partnerships which valued funding for capital investment, skills transfers and mentoring, and infrastructure development.
This showed the way for government to recast its vision for the agricultural sector in a post-Covid-19 era and especially in the former bantustans.
Further exploiting the Eastern Cape’s agricultural potential could yield significant jobs and economic activity.