• The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey data (Q2: 2019) show that South Africa’s primary agricultural employment fell by 0.2% from the corresponding period last year to 842 000 .  The subsectors that faced a notable reduction were mainly field crops, the game industry and forestry. In the case of field crops, the reduction in employment was unsurprising following a reduction in activity in the fields on the back of a poor harvest in the 2018/19 season, all of which is underpinned by unfavourable weather conditions earlier in the season. From a regional perspective, a notable decline in employment was recorded in the Northern Cape, Free State and Limpopo, whilst other provinces saw a marginal uptick. 
    Will there be a change in the current jobs’ trajectory?
    The near-term agricultural jobs trajectory will be influenced by, amongst other factors, weather conditions, and levels of investment in the agricultural sector. As best as we can tell, there are prospects for good weather conditions in the coming months which could support agricultural activity and subsequent employment. But this might not assure levels of employment which far outpace the trends we have witnessed over the past few years, as illustrated in Figure 1. On an investment front, the outlook hinges on the broader policy direction of the agricultural sector, notably land reform and water rights. There are a number of developments on the land reform front at the moment, but the final policy direction will be an important determinant of the direction that South Africa’s agricultural sector will be taking. The same is true for water policy, and infrastructure thereafter.
    Even if we assume positive outcomes from the aforementioned factors in the coming months, the effects on jobs may be marginal. Fundamental change is needed to break away from the current trend, and to reach the targets of the agricultural job that are envisaged in the National Development Plan.1 By using the word – fundamental change – we are referring to (1) a need for a boost in agricultural productivity, (2) an improvement in rural investment climate, (3) expansion of export markets, (4) promotion of labour-intensive agriculture, and (5) expansion of area farmed where possible.
    At a practical level, if the underutilised land in the former homelands, underperforming land reform farms, and other parts of the country are not brought into full production with a key focus on labour-intensive subsectors, notable job creation in South Africa’s agriculture sector might not materialise. Labour-intensive subsectors specifically refer to the horticulture and field crop subsectors which currently employ two-thirds of the primary agriculture labour force of 842 000. The other subsector – livestock – can also be prioritised, specifically in areas where environmental factors do not permit horticulture and field crops. This would all happen at a time where there is a growing demand for horticultural, and protein-rich diets in the global market which is underpinned by the changing consumer patterns towards healthier diets. Moreover, global beef demand is also gathering steam, particularly driven by China. All this presents an opportunity for South Africa to partially address its twin challenges of rural unemployment and low economic growth.
    South Africa is still lagging behind in its effort of meeting a target of creating a million agricultural jobs by 2030 as envisaged in the National 
    provinces containing former homelands that still have tracts of underutilised, arable land that can be prioritised for agricultural expansion are KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.These provinces collectively have between 1.6 million to 1.8 million hectares of underutilised land, according to a 2015 study by McKinsey Global Institute.
    Also, worth noting is that these particular provinces are characterised by higher levels of unemployment and poverty, which in our view, would make sense for the government to prioritise them for agricultural development in the near term. As noted above, the starting point for this process would be to articulate a clear policy framework on land reform and water rights, which will encourage investment in the agricultural sector. Concerted investments would be required for land preparations and provision of irrigation infrastructure, amongst other aspects, to unlocking growth and employment, and associated positive welfare effects.
    The focus for provinces that already have extensive farming could be on ensuring that there are export markets for products being produced. Further, the ports infrastructure for delivering the agricultural produce to export markets should be part of the “fundamental change” to boost South Africa’s agricultural fortunes and jobs. This is specifically the case to, but not limited, the Western Cape. The province is a leading agricultural jobs creator, but for that to be sustained, there must be market access for the produce of the province. Animal and plant health as key pillars of trade need consistent attention. The effects of animal health were felt earlier this year in the livestock sector, specifically in the wool and beef industries, where a lapse in biosecurity controls severely compromised the industries' export potential. Overall, the quest for boosting employment in South Africa’s agricultural sector will need various interventions. Fortunately, many of these are within the policymakers’ reach.

  • A new report by global NGO, World Animal Protection, provides a damning indictment on the captive predator breeding industry.

  • President Cyril Ramaphosa's Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture believes individuals or companies should own commercial farms in South Africa, or should at least have leases so iron-clad they can literally take them to the bank.

  • The South African Breweries (SAB) sources nearly all of its raw materials – used in the brewing process – from local South African suppliers.

  • Prices in the domestic beef market were mixed this week.

  • Scientists from the South African Weather Service (SAWS), the National Research Foundation (NRF), policy makers and government officials this week gathered at the National Science Week to discuss South Africa's research on, and responses to, climate change and its complex regional and global impacts on society, economy, politics, animals and the environment.

  • South Africa’s slow-motion momentum towards a financial train crash has begun to speed up. Recent weeks have seen strong warning signals from the rating agencies.

  • The Agriculture sector is arguably the most important section of any economy as this chunk of the economy is involved in the cultivation of crops and the rearing of livestock for both commercial and domestic purposes.

  • THE Joburg Fresh Produce Market will soon receive a major facelift.

  • The bizarre fruit of the sausage tree-

  • South African wine. Don’t we all just love it? Well, as it happens, not so much.

  • Smallholder farmers are the drivers of many economies in Africa even though their potential is often not brought forward.... Smallholder farmers are also defined as those farmers owning small-based plots of land on which they grow subsistence crops and one or two cash crops relying almost exclusively on family labour.

  • Doing the rounds on social media is an article about the true meaning of regression. The piece by Professor Anthony Turton illustrates the backward trajectory of the South African economy, bringing to mind what happened to so many African states after the colonial powers departed.

  • Absa Corporate and Investment Bank (CIB) plans to further grow its agriculture lending book in South Africa and other African markets where demand for funding is strong despite tough economic conditions.

  • We can have different views about the agricultural policies that the South African government adopted since the dawn of democracy, but the one thing we can all agree on, I hope, is that the sector has grown tremendously –

  • US beef prices were mostly positive this week.

  • The demand for bananas in Europe and the United States is low during the summer.

  • Humanity faces increasingly painful trade-offs between food security and rising temperatures within decades unless emissions are curbed and unsustainable farming and deforestation halted, a landmark climate assessment said Thursday.

  • A new technology developed by a South African company is the first to prove effective in killing the polyphagous shot hole borer, a tiny beetle that has been killing trees worldwide at an alarming rate. 

    The beetle, a native of southeast Asia, is no bigger than 2mm, but carries a fungus that kills trees. It has been spotted in every province except Limpopo and, until recently, there was no way to stop it. 

    But Parys-based company Pan African Farms has come up with a solution to rid trees of the borer. The treatment got the go-ahead from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in June, which means it can be used as an agricultural remedy.

    In invasive beetle that is killing trees in South Africa has been sighted in Somerset West. Here's how to spot the signs in your garden. Watch.
    Professor Marcus Byrne, an Ig Nobel prize winner and entomologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, earlier told News24 that the beetle bores tunnels into tree trunks where it spreads the fungus Fusarium euwallaceae, which effectively cuts off the trees' vascular system, causing them to die.

    "It's an ambrosia beetle, which means it carries a fungus which it feeds its babies on. When it introduces that fungus into trees that have never experienced it before, it threatens those trees with illness or death."

    Byrne says no one truly knows how the beetles made their way to South Africa.

    "We happen to be a very connected world, and trade today allows for the movement of goods all around the world. We're not very good at screening these animals that hitchhike around the world on our consumer goods."

    Unique, eco-friendly and smaller than a cell

    Piet Meyer, CEO of Pan African Farms, told News24 the company has managed to develop a unique, eco-friendly solution using nanotechnology. 

    "The core of our technology is nanotechnology," Meyer says. "Our vesicle, as far as I could determine, is the smallest in the world at 10 nanometres. 

    "To give you some perspective: The smallest living cell is 10 microns. Our vesicle is 1 000 times smaller than that.

    "That enables it to penetrate through most known barriers."

    Meyer says all fungi, including Fusarium, have a cell wall.

    "This wall has always been regarded as impenetrable, but with our vesicles there's an instant passage through that wall. The fungus can then be killed through a series of cellular attacks."

    And this is the only way to kill the polyphagous shot hole borer - by killing what it feeds on. Ultimately, the fungus is destroyed and the beetles die of hunger. 

    "After 24 hours of applying this to the bark of a tree, we could trace it to about 10-and-a-half centimetres into the tree. That distinguishes this product from anything else."

    Meyer says other fungicides used today are expensive, labour-intensive and become ineffective after a while. 

    The best he can explain the vesicles, Meyer says, is to picture a tennis ball. That 'ball' is called an Anods - which stands for amphiphilic nano oil-delivery system.

    "A tennis ball is hollow inside and surrounded by rubber. In the Anods, the 'rubber' part is then surrounded by fatty acids, and the hollow part is filled with the active ingredient needed to kill the fungus."

    According to Meyer, conventional pesticides are ineffective because of drug resistance as pests adapt, much like antibiotics in humans.

    "But we have found suitable natural active ingredients that can destroy the Fusarium fungus. It is non-toxic and it won't harm your tree." 

    Meyer says after application, the beetles pour out of trees in droves. "We found that there was no trace of the fungus left."  

    Grave concern

    The local beetle infestation was first noticed in 2017 by Dr Trudy Paap – a postdoctoral fellow at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at the University of Pretoria – in the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg, and it has since been found nationwide, including in Johannesburg and as far as the Northern Cape.

    Johannesburg has what is considered one of the world's largest urban forests with an estimated 10 million trees.

    According to Andrea Rosen, co-director of the Johannesburg Urban Forest Alliance, the infestation is spreading fast.

    "The polyphagous shot hole borer is of grave concern," Rosen told News24 last year.

    "Some projections go up to half a million trees that are affected in Johannesburg alone, which is a substantial part of our urban forest canopy," Rosen said. 

    According to Meyer, that figure could be as many as 1.8m trees in the greater Johannesburg area. 

    "In urban areas, municipalities will have to act quickly to stop the spread of the borer beetles and save the trees that have already been infected.

    "Each female beetle lays 20 eggs at a time in the bark of a tree. The life cycle is around 40 to 45 days and 60% of the population is female. According to my calculations, in 10 months, a single beetle can multiply to 50m. That is an alarming figure.

    "What worries me is that the beetles could spread to the Kruger National Park and the Knysna Forest." 

    The approval certificate from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. (Supplied)
     The beetle has also spread to Cape Town.

    "The first sighting was confirmed on 3 April 2019 in Somerset West," Cape Town mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt told News24.

    So far, the identified infestation in Cape Town is limited.

    "At this stage the only positive sightings have been confirmed in the Somerset West area. Recently a sighting 1km away from the first positive sightings has been confirmed," said Nieuwoudt.

    For now, urban residents who notice the beetle in their gardens can buy the product directly from Pan African Farms

    "We have priced it to be user-friendly. They can then apply it to municipal trees growing on their sidewalks too, until such time as municipalities start using it," Meyer says. "This is happening in the north of Johannesburg right now.  

    "In Bloemfontein, for example, members of the community got together and decided to tackle the problem themselves." 

    Signs of an infestation include wilted or missing leaves, dead or dying branches, as well as tiny and randomly spaced holes in the bark. These holes could have staining around them, or a white powder or gum-like blobs oozing from them.

    "It looks like the trees are weeping," says Meyer.

  • It is almost certain that SA’s agricultural economy will contract in 2019, mainly as a result of the poor summer crop harvest coming after a drought.





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