There is a lack of training in the agricultural sector, which is necessary for small farms to grow into commercial farms, says an expert.
Gary Collar, General Manager of the Asia-Pacific and Africa region for US agricultural equipment manufacturer AGCO, explained that mechanising operations on small farms could elevate them to commercial farms. However, he pointed out that this should be accompanied with education and training to correctly use agricultural equipment.
The South African government has acknowledged that there is a lack of farming capabilities. Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director general Mike Mlengana, mentioned this in a discussion about land reform at Nampo Harvest Day while suggesting that government should assess farmers’ capabilities, including their financial viability before redistributing land they would potentially farm.
However, this problem extends across the continent, explained Collar. “What we see lacking in Africa in general, is a lack in agrimony training in what to do with smart mechanisation. It’s not just about having a tractor, it’s about doing the right thing with the tractor,” he said.
Collar added that people needed training in the commercial side of business as well. For example, what to do with more crops, and what the “commercial ramifications” would be for farming at a greater scale.
Given the need for job creation, Collar said that mechanisation and technical training should “go together” so that people would have the skills to use mechanical equipment.
Mechanisation would make labour more productive in the long term, without anyone having to “work themselves to death,” he said. Mechanisation can enhance jobs by taking out the “physical toil” of farming. “When done in the right way, it can be sustainable and it can make a subsistence farmer a commercially sustainable farmer,” said Collar.
Dawie Maree, head of information and marketing for agriculture at FNB Business, explained that small farmers should be cautious when mechanising. They can only mechanise to a certain extent before it isn’t profitable for them, he explained.
Initially, mechanisation had a negative impact on employment in the past, but has since changed to create job opportunities higher up in the value chain.
The primary agriculture sector in South Africa contributed 2.5% to GDP last year, it is projected to be 2.6% this year as more crops will be yielded following the drought, said Maree. Considering the contribution from the whole industry, including processing and other operations in the value chain, this will be between 15% and 20%, he said.