Mike Mlengana, director-general of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), recently spoke at a workshop of the Delegation of the European Union to South Africa and African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA). Mlengana was addressing market opportunities for South African emerging farmers in the growing European market for sustainably produced goods.

The objectives of the event include sharing information about the general concepts of Organic, Fair Trade and EU Ethical Trade policy and informing stakeholders about market opportunities for Organic, Fair Trade and Ethical Trade for the benefit of SA companies. The event also provided the participants with first-hand information on how to access this niche market with enormous potential given high growth rates and consumer interest in sustainably produced products. Promising products were also presented with valuable information on labels and certification requirements in the EU.

Mlengana reminded delegates that DAFF continues to put food security, job creation and growth of the economy at the apex of its agenda. “These priorities fall squarely into the current land transformation discussions, which I believe is in the interest of all to clarify land discussions in the context of food security, job creation and the economic growth of the country.”

According to Mlengena a discussion about ethical agricultural production or sustainable agriculture, must accompany discussion about the skewed distribution of land.

“This skewed distribution was not because of any market forces, but due to wrongful government actions and laws in South Africa’s history. The market will never be able to correct the distortion, on the contrary it will worsen it, hence the intervention by government. This is not just a socio- political imperative, it is also an economic necessity,” the director-general said.

Mlengana puts the focus on protecting agricultural productivity throughout any land reform processes. “President Ramaphosa has repeatedly summarised our approach to this emotive matter when he says that the land reform programme will not threaten investment in South Africa’s economy and will not wear away property rights or negatively affect agricultural production.”

In this context, Mlengana expressed his delight on dialogue with the EU that emerged from the workshop. “There must be platforms to help black farmers grow and assist them with access EU markets. We urge the EU to continue with these discussions. We hope we will be able to agree on some deliverables within time frames. Market access for the 450 black commercial farmers as announced by the president is critical, and all bottlenecks should be unblocked.”

Mlengana confirmed that the South African government is committed to sustainable production systems. The government also believes in ethical and fair trade with all trading partners.

Sustainable production systems must be anchored on three pillars, namely:

  • Economic sustainability
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Social sustainability

According to Mlengana a policy on organic farming has been developed to ensure that sustainable production takes place in South Africa. “The department had worked on amendments to Agricultural Products Standards Act to regulate organic products. Organic agriculture has a smaller footprint on the natural resource base and the health of agricultural workers than conventional agriculture. The department also developed other policies on climate smart agriculture and on sustainable agriculture.”

Another important matter is conservation agriculture, Mlengena said DAFF worked with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation to pilot conservation farming in South Africa. “Sustainable crop and livestock systems provide ecosystem services that restore productivity, conserve soil, water and biodiversity, sequester carbon, regulate climate and provide landscape and cultural values.”

He says an effort will be made to retain and expand our footprint in the international markets starting with the African markets where fellow Africans have worked hard to develop an African Continental Free Trade Area which aims to create a single African market. “Within the EU, the South African agriculture products continued to benefit from the Free Trade Agreement of the Southern African Customs Union and the European Free Trade Association which has been in force for more than ten years since May 2008.” – Hugo Lochner, AgriOrbit