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Rural Development Indaba

Hosted by the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency.

Magwa Tea Estate in the Lusikisiki town under Ingquza Hill Local Municipality, recently welcomed the province’s top brass for the Rural Development Indaba hosted by the Easter Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA). This was a three (3) days conference aimed at discussing rural economic development issues concerning the region’s ecotourism and the agricultural sector. From the pristine outfields to the freshly pruned tea leaves, with roaming cattle and a vibrant people, Magwa witnessed a promise of a turn in fortunes. The attention has all but shifted, not only in some parts of the Eastern Cape but the province as a whole. The eastern coastal side of the province has been touted as a game changer in the agricultural space. Blessed with fertile land and favourable weather conditions with regular rainfall, hosting this programme of agricultural development this side of the province was a ‘no brainer’.

The occasion was blessed with the presence from leaders in politics, academia, business and traditional affairs. Leading the delegation was his majesty King Zanozuko Sigcau, the Premier of the Eastern Cape province Hon. Lubabalo Oscar Mabuyane, MEC for Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform Hon. Nomakhosazana Meth, the Deputy Minister of Small Business Development Hon. Zoleka Capa. The discussion panellists were academics Prof. Somadoda Fikeni (Political Analyst), Prof. Muxe Nkondo and Prof. Nomfundo Luswazi. There were also leaders from the financial sector such as the deputy minister of Finance Dr David Masondo, Dr Thami Mazwai from the National Planning Commission, Dr Auma Kararach from the African Development Bank and Nonkululeko Dlamini from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) among many dignitaries that made it to the Indaba.

The collective objective of this conference was basically on how best local land could be utilised for maximum economic, agricultural and social benefit. Magwa Tea estate area has potential to be a local economic enabler, exploiting both the active agricultural and Eco tourism sector. The beauty of the coast attracts people from all over the world and MEC Nomakhosazana Meth sent out an invited to the Department of Environmental Affairs (national) and the department of Public Works to use whatever resources and devise ways to grow this sector here beyond what it is currently.

A state of the art Magwa tourism centre model of the Magwa falls was also unveiled as one of the efforts from the government set out to rejuvenate the local tourism sector.

MEC for the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, Nomakhosazana Meth, encouraged local livestock owners and those with land to consider going the commercial route and not heard livestock simply for prestige, but use the livestock to sustain their households and communities.

“Farmers are encouraged to adapt to the changing conditions, consider suitable farming activities and implement good farming practices including destocking.”

Making mention to current demand for cattle feed due to barren grazing land caused by the lack of rainfall. The MEC said, “The drought has been serious to our farmers in the province and the department will embark on an accelerated intervention to mobilise animal feed to provide for emergency relief in order to mitigate against the impact of drought.”

The department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform intends on working toward increasing the commercial Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of this sector from “1.7% to 2 or 3% by 2024”, said MEC Meth.

Small scale farmers from previously disadvantaged areas are set to benefit from this initiative, through professional mentorship and increased customer base. “Black small holder farmers will increase production in terms of yield, expand areas under production and exploit export opportunities in the next five years in order to earn foreign earnings”.

According to the MEC, this will require collaborating with influential industry entities. “The department will ensure that commodity based and cluster-based partnerships with industry development partners to support small holder producers is operating optimally.”

Hon. Meth also mentioned that the department will adopt a strong monitoring system to ensure that the predetermined outcomes are brought to fruition.

This event was hosted in part of the province where the knowledge of farming dagga dates back decades. So, one of the pertinent discussions was around, how to best assist those farmers to maximize their benefit from the booming pharmaceuticals market. According to Premier Oscar Mabuyane, the exploration of this is not to enhance the smoking culture but for the benefit of primarily using it for medicinal purposes, through farming and processing.

Premier Mabuyane said, “As part of the government’s mandate to expand the market for potential economic growth, we look at it as part of our expanding our economic opportunities particularly in this corridor of Lusikisiki and Port St Johns.”

“We are not using (sic) for smoking and other things, we are just looking at it for medicinal use but also for all these other products that are coming out of it,” said Premier Mabuyane.

Since taking office, the Premier has been vocal about the cannabis business and its potential to be a serious catalyst for economic growth, not only in the province or nationally, but globally. The minister has already made strides in moving forward with this mandate, having sent a team of delegates to Canada for an expedition on this subject matter.

The Premier also spoke on the laws of the country governing the use of illegal substances. Currently, trading cannabis without proper licensing is considered an illegal act in the eyes of the law. Responding to this statement Premier Mabuyane said, “We know the laws in our country, and we are working within those laws. We are really looking at the current laws that are existing because we want to affirm the ordinary people who have been actually cultivating this in these areas, so that we give them the proper support as government to move forward and stop using it illegally.”

The Magwa Tea Estate business has come a long way from being a non-functioning entity to owing the workers large sums of their hard-earned wages. The change in prospects for this entity was when it went under business rescue lead by the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency. Things seem to have turned for the better in the current circumstances. This was further highlighted by the Premier of the province, “I am happy that the challenge that has been here of the entity failing to pay workers for some time, that it’s a history now. By December they were all able to settle that.”

Premier Mabuyane had some encouraging words for those with vested interests in this entity, saying that a potential market has been established and delegates tasked with running this corporation were recently sent out on an overseas trip to identify these markets. Upon returning, it is believed that, the country of Kuwait has shown keen interest in this product, urging those representatives to export more of the same going forward.

When it comes to the emerging technological inclined era of artificial intelligence, wireless internet service, digitization just to mention. Noting how agricultural practices have evolved over the years and how other provinces have been using this technology, enhancing the quality of their product. The big question concerning this area, was on how this technology could be introduced in the rural space for benefit the of production and more importantly developing skills.

MEC Nomakhosazana Meth said her department are already working with key stakeholders and already have an active programme that is aimed at developing kids from primary and high school.

“We have partnered with Vodacom as a private sector entity to introduce what you call e-agriculture,” said MEC Meth.

This venture will be key in making agriculture fashionable, where kids will grow up knowing extensively what this practice is about and to stop this mentality of studying agriculture as a ‘by the way course.’ Instilling love and passion to this sector requires going with times and attracting the current generation and their way doing things and technology is the most common relatable tool.

Premier Mabuyane echoed the MEC Meth’s sentiments adding that people should not be threatened by the emergence of the “4th industrial revolution” but embrace it as a tool that enables innovation in the agricultural space.

When all was said and done in from this monumental occasion, that is when the real work starts from all those who were invited. At the end of the conference, a working document was produced, containing various policy ideals on how best the resolutions of this conference can be implemented.

Prof. Somadoda Fikeni cautioned that, the resolutions of this conference should not fall prey to our national syndrome of “ukubeka izinto ecaleni,” to explain his point the Prof. Fikeni said that our province is known for conceptualising excellent plans, but fail on so many occasions to implement them. His hope was that every idea conjured, could see the light of day in the pursuit of alleviating people’s livelihoods.