The eThekwini Municipality has assured a number of emerging farmers that it would accelerate the inclusion of farmers in the mainstream economy, and work hard to ensure that barriers faced in the agricultural sector is addressed. This was revealed at the launch of eThekwini Agri-Business Programme launched in Verulam last Friday.

The launch was the city’s effort to officially introduce the programme that will assist to address barriers in the food value chain and fast-track the economic inclusion of the poverty stricken black majority in the agricultural sector.

This function attracted small and emerging farmers from the outskirts of eThekwini and gave them an insight on how the programme would assist farmers to access opportunities and reduce dependency on state support while increasing agricultural land utilisation. It was a platform for small scale farmers to engage with various sectors to come up with devices to access markets.

Speaking on behalf of the Mayor Zandile Gumede, Councillor Sipho Kaunda said: “We are proud of the initiative that the municipality has made in imparting skills and identifying opportunities for our farmers to be part of the value chain of food processing.

“It is for this reason that as the city, we had devised a strategy, which will provide a platform for historically disadvantaged players to participate in the production, processing and distribution of aspects in the value chain,” said Kauda.

He added that the sector played a fundamental role in the economy, through the programme we will be able to come up with solutions will address socio-economic challenges such as poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Bongani Gumede from Tongaat Hulett said the company partnered with the city to ensure that small scale farmers are provided with relevant skills that will help them to unlock markets opportunities. “We had to come on board to establish devices that will empower them to be able to reduce barriers to markets through embracing science, innovation and technology,” said Gumede.

The municipality has targeted various sites to be used for an incubation programme for emerging farmers in the eThekwini municipal area, one of which is Verulam and Tongaat. Clairwood Markets in the South of Durban has been identified as an agri-hub service that will be used to import and export fresh food products.

To ensure that farmers are equipped enough for the journey, more than 400 were targeted for technical training and mentorship. This will translate to 2000 direct jobs in the crop planting sphere alone.

Currently the municipality has purchased six tractors to farm about 1000 hectares of small scale farmers identified with eThekwini; 400 hectares ploughing and planting is underway with about 300 farmers set to benefit directly.

With the programme now up in running, the city is currently in negotiations with private sector such as hospitality and retail industry to purchase from emerging farmers.