The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has assured Parliament that the Agricultural Product Standards Amendment Bill will benefit many small farmers who still struggle to access markets. This assurance was given by the department this week when it came before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development on the Amendment Bill.
It amends sections of the Agricultural Product Standards Act. Some committee members were concerned that one of the proposed amended sections would burden small farmers with compliance costs. The section in question amends the auditing, inspecting, grading and sampling process for quality control, which is also used to determine whether an agricultural product is organic or free-range.
Committee member Noko Masipa voiced fears that the costs of quality assurance may be too much to bear for small-scale farmers. “While this Bill is good, it might also endanger those who cannot comply due to reasons like not being financially capable or having strong logistical support to comply,” he said. “The big challenge we are facing now in rural areas is that with the growth of big retailers, farmers that are used to farming and looking for markets, end up destroying their (produce) because their products are not certified to meet the requirements of big retail outlets.”
However, the department’s executive officer of agricultural product standards, Billy Makhafola, told the meeting that the implementation of these amendments would be a good thing for emerging farmers. “Most of these emerging farmers are not using chemicals or inorganic fertilisers, and they don’t spray any pesticides on their products so they will be afforded that opportunity to enter into the market space without incurring costs or (finding) barriers to compliance”.
The department’s deputy director-general, Dipepeneneng Serage, said that the Bill also made it easier for emerging farmers to compete. This was because they would no longer to compete against established producers who were allowed to label their produce without any government oversight or inspection. “These new amendments will make the situation much better for vulnerable farmers because those who, for example, are producing mangoes or avocados without fertilisers and pesticides in Limpopo will find that their products will automatically be classified as organic,” he said.
Portfolio committee chairperson Zwelivelile Mandela praised parts of the Bill, saying that new entrants would be afforded the opportunity to enter markets that would recognise their methods of producing food without the use of agro-chemicals. The Bill has been before Parliament since last August and will be sent to the National Assembly for a vote if the committee approves it in its current form.