Since 1994, the public sector has devoted a large sum of funds towards agricultural development, particularly smallholder development. However, a negligible impact has been achieved. One may be quick to attribute delays in smallholder development to past incidences such as the deregulation of agricultural markets and the land reform debacle.
But the question is, having had such policies and having difficulties in reaping the rewards the policies were designed to achieve, what other ventures do we need to tap into to transform and develop novice farmers? Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are a feasible option. With limited public-sector resources and expertise, groundbreaking partnerships that bring together players from business, government and civil society are increasingly being upheld as a tool for improving productivity and driving growth in the agricultural sector.
For this reason, it is important for those concerned to take the principles of public-private partnerships more seriously. In agriculture, the safest, quickest and most promising approach to launching a large-scale initiative that is both smallholder-focused and likely to make a tangible impact on food security is to target partners who have well-established systems and proven abilities in these areas.
From the smallholder's perspective, such partners, particularly in grains, could include Lima, Nerpo, Grain SA, Sasa, SRCC and Techno-Serve. These are proven potential partners that could help the government close the gap between production and consumption through investment in local milling capacity, where relevant.
In seeking to boost food security status at a household level, like-minded partners could include Mngcunube and FoodBank South Africa. With such partners, there could be a launch of massive household food gardening programmes to assist on the already existing structures and resources such as the Community Works Programme (Lima has already established such an approach).
With food insecurity being an overarching concern in South Africa, the most cost-effective and efficient approach would be to enable the likes of FoodBank South Africa to expand its operations, starting with its smallholder procurement system, as Techno-Serve does with Kellogg's, and its food recovery process. The latter has the potential to reach thousands of hungry households at the lowest possible cost, especially if combined intelligently with the War on Poverty data.
Public-private partnerships serve as the best tool in pursuit of sustainable agricultural development that is inclusive of smallholder farmers.
It is not only the aforementioned partners that have a role to play in smallholder development, other partners may well be relevant. The point I am trying to get across is that smallholder development can be achieved through various methods; however, PPPs have a huge role to play only if those partners with relevant expertise and experience in relation to genuine smallholder development and subsistence production support are selected.
To deliver multiple benefits, PPPs serve as the best tool in pursuit of sustainable agricultural development that is inclusive of smallholder farmers. Worth noting is that such partnerships should have guiding principles. This includes the optimal allocation of tasks, obligations and risks among the public and private partners concerned.
Not overlooking the fact that each player has a comparative advantage relative to the other in tackling certain tasks, it is of utmost importance that the partnerships aim to minimise costs while improving performance in terms of relevance efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability. The end goal of public-private partnerships should be generating more value for money than the government could do single-handedly.