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Agricultural expertise needed in SA: Minister

30 November -0001, SABC News

East London:  Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana says there is a gross shortage of agricultural extension officers in the country. She says about 7 000 personnel with various agricultural skills are needed in order to improve agricultural productivity throughout the country.

Xingwana said this while addressing a two-day national ministerial indaba currently underway in East London.

Emerging farmers are battling to produce quality products. Most of their farms are in a poor state because of lack of agricultural expertise and capacity. They also battle to find markets for their produce. They are therefore not able to maintain the farms given to them and some of these farms end up dying.

Xingwana says government wants to ensure that the new land owners are assisted with post-settlement support by appointing advisory officers. Even though the department needs 7 000 qualified extension and advisory service officers, they will have to settle for 1 000 in the short term.

"Our extension officers are few and they are not qualified. We plan to upgrade them by giving them bursaries to study further and also do on-the-job training," says Xingwana.

More than half of African countries' GDP is generated through agriculture, while in South Africa only 3% of the total GDP comes from this sector. Eighty percent of Kenya's agricultural exports are from small scale farming and South Africa plans to emulate this.

Emerging farmers say their main challenge is the lack of transport to take their produce to the markets and they also are far from markets where agricultural trading takes place.

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