Sustainable rural development in the Eastern Cape would need careful and planned interventions if real local economic opportunities for rural communities were to be created.
This was said by the speakers at a seminar hosted by the European Union and Office of the Premier-funded Sustainable Rural Development in the Eastern Cape (Surudec) in East London on Thursday.
Entitled Rural Livelihoods and Development Planning: Experiences from the Eastern Cape, the seminar heard presentations from the Eastern Cape Social and Economic Consultative Council, the agricultural extension department of the University of Fort Hare and Surudec.
Most of the opportunities probably lay in the agro-processing sector, according to the CEO of the council, Andrew Murray.
He said agriculture contributed a mere 2.6% to the provincial GDP, so beneficiation and value chains needed to be explored as it was probably the sector where most jobs could be created.
One possible strategy was aggregating micro-projects with a focus on value chain multipliers, but Murray cautioned that producers had to produce the right product at the right time within a market system.
"It's important to link micro-projects with manufacturing at scale, this needs to be a costed instrument and we have been too slow in getting it right – this needs to be speeded up.
"Values have to be shared; it is no good squeezing small producers on one end of the scale while manufacturers take home huge revenues."
Training and learning incubators were also important as making land more productive was a lengthy process and consisted of more than mere access to land.
On training, Murray's view was echoed by Prof Francois Lategan of the agricultural extension department at the University of Fort Hare who said that past training of agricultural extension officers had failed and that today's students needed training in a multiplicity of skills in order to equip them for the job.