July 2, 2024

John Steenhuisen Charts New Course for South African Agriculture as Newly Appointed Minister

John Steenhuisen at the Nampo Agricultural Trade Show on 14 May 2024 in Bothaville. (Mlungisi Louw/Volksblad/Gallo Images)

John Steenhuisen, the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture in South Africa, brings a vision of revitalization and growth to the agricultural sector. His entrance marks a significant transition, especially notable with the concurrent appointment of Mzwanele Nyhontso as Minister of Land Reform and Rural Development, clarifying the focus of their respective ministries.

A Comprehensive Agenda for Growth

In his initial remarks, Steenhuisen articulated an ambitious agenda aimed at leveraging agriculture as a pivotal force for economic development and job creation. “I believe agriculture is a very important portfolio, and I think there’s a huge opportunity for the agricultural sector in South Africa to grow, to contribute to South Africa’s economic growth but also as a major sector with opportunities for job creation in both agriculture and agri-processing,” he said during an interview with Food For Mzansi.

Implementing the Agro-processing Master Plan

Central to his strategy is the swift implementation of the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan, established in 2022. This plan is designed to maximize the sector’s potential, enhancing agricultural practices and creating employment opportunities across the country. Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, emphasized the importance of maintaining current policies and focusing on this plan as the primary roadmap for the sector.

Extension Services and Training

Steenhuisen stressed the importance of improving extension services, especially for new and emerging farmers. He also highlighted the role of agricultural colleges in enhancing education and training to prepare young people for successful careers in agriculture. These initiatives are crucial for empowering the next generation of farmers with the skills and knowledge needed to sustain and grow the agricultural sector.

Enhancing Export Capabilities

Steenhuisen plans to address challenges that hinder South Africa’s ability to maximize its agricultural exports, focusing on improving biosecurity and phytosanitary processes. By enhancing these standards, he aims to create better market access for farmers, especially small-scale operators, to international markets. This strategic focus is critical for increasing the competitiveness of South African agricultural products on the global stage.

Land Reform

Steenhuisen addressed the emotional and complex issue of land reform, which has historically impacted agriculture due to the contentious nature of land ownership in South Africa. He plans to work closely with the Minister of Land Reform to ensure that land reform policies are implemented in a way that supports agricultural productivity. This involves making sure that new landowners are supported and integrated into the agricultural sector effectively, enhancing both land productivity and owner success.

Balancing Support for Diverse Farming Sectors

Steenhuisen has vowed to equally support commercial and small-scale farmers, understanding that the growth and sustainability of the sector depend on nurturing both. He is committed to improving yields and extension services for emerging farmers, aiming to ensure their operations are successful and capable of expansion. “I think that you can advance commercial agriculture and at the same time work to improve the type of extension services that are offered to the emerging and new farmers who are looking to grow their businesses,” Steenhuisen elaborated.

Enhancing Inter-ministerial Cooperation

The minister also recognizes the need for robust cooperation across government departments to address the wider challenges affecting agriculture. This includes enhancing rural safety with the police, upgrading infrastructure with the public works department, and tackling environmental and regulatory hurdles that impact agricultural exports.

Optimism from Agricultural Experts

The Agricultural Research Council and other industry experts have expressed optimism about Steenhuisen’s potential to promote sustainable practices and support smallholder farmers, significantly contributing to national food security.

Industry Endorsement and Conclusion

As Steenhuisen prepares to transform South African agriculture, industry bodies like Agri SA have welcomed his appointment, emphasizing the timely and impactful nature of this leadership transition. Johann Kotzé, CEO of Agri SA, highlighted the importance of enhancing productivity, sustainability, and profitability to secure food security and foster social stability. Under Steenhuisen’s leadership, there is a strong confidence that agriculture will not only thrive, but also reinforce its role as a foundational pillar of economic and social progress in South Africa.