Startled by drops of water landing on my face, I woke from a deep, jet lagged sleep. Bleary eyed and confused, it took me a few seconds to work out where I was. Rain pounded the thatched roof of my hotel room as thunder roared like a lion and bolts and bolts of lightning flashed through the window.
It’s the start of our South African adventure. The gorgeous Farm Inn where we’re staying in Pretoria could probably do with some re-thatching. Apparently the wet season rain isn’t usually this late or so heavy and South Africa has experienced a drought over summer.
Our hosts at South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) told us that our arrival had brought the rain they’d all been hoping for. None of the Aussies in our group have had much rain back at home so we’ll have to give the credit to Tommy, the only Irish Nuffield Farming Scholar on our Global Focus Program.
The rain continued throughout our meeting at DAFF as they gave us an overview of agriculture in South Africa. Two thirds of South Africa is rural land with 52% of the land being high value agricultural land (land with quality soil, access to water and good climate). Despite this, only 12% of the high value land is used for high value agricultural production. It’s a country with a lot of potential but also a country undergoing land rights reform, high population growth and urbanisation. Some of the best soils in the world are situated between South Africa and the Equator.
There are three types of farming enterprises in South Africa. Subsistence farming is the smallest scale of farming. This is where a family may have a couple of cows, a few maize plants and a small vegetable patch. They consume what they produce, described to us as hand to mouth farming.
The South African government view subsistence farming as a way to reduce poverty. Rural women are the poorest sector in South Africa and an increase in subsistence farming is seen as a way to empower women to feed their family and become more self sufficient. A target of increasing subsistence farms from 200,000 to 300,000 nationwide has been set by the government.
Foreign aid organisations will also play a role in developing subsistence farms. Many aid organisations now have dedicated agricultural departments that provide extension officers for agricultural education, knowledge transfer and capacity building.
The second type of enterprise is the small holder farm. Averaging 100 hectares in size, this scale of farming provides a small income for one family, is a contributor to South Africa’s food security but is often resource poor. The small holder farm is a relatively small contributor to the country’s economy.
Lastly are the commercial farms. Starting at approximately 1,000 hectares, these large scale farms are usually mixed enterprise. They are a large contributor to the South African economy and often employ 200 people or more.
Food security has become an issue of national importance with the government listing it as number two in importance on their national plan. There will definitely be some exciting developments in South African agriculture in years to come. Take the pig industry for example. China is the biggest world consumer of pigs. Two hundred and twenty million tonnes of pigs are exported to China from South Africa. That number is only going to increase given population forecasts and China’s increasing consumption of protein.
The two key South African reforms for land redistribution and land restitution will also play a key role in the development of agriculture, with 33% of agricultural land to be given back to the indigenous people.
Tomorrow we are visiting two commercial farms – the Dykema family’s mixed cropping enterprise near Warm Baths and the Van de Walt’s mixed farming operation in the same region. Stay tuned for the next post…