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Your editorial comment emphasising the importance of export markets for our growing agricultural sector was excellent (“Non-tariff barriers pose a growing challenge for SA farm exports”, June 14).

I agree that SA needs to increase its focus on growing its export markets for the agricultural sector. If we don't, our efforts to boost production won’t be fully rewarded.

SA already exports about half of its agricultural products a year in value terms, and in 2021 the sector’s exports reached a record $12.4bn (R199.5bn). To sustain this momentum we need to broaden beyond the excellent presence we have in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia.

We believe China, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh are critical markets to explore. The consumer base in these markets has solid buying power, most of them with rising populations.

However, in addition to trade policy matters, we have serious challenges domestically that could hinder our export activity. A case in point is the deterioration in the functioning of the network industries — roads, rail, ports, and water and electricity supplies. These aspects remain the biggest threats to the growth and sustainability of our agricultural sector and many exporting sectors of the economy.

The government must also hasten its firming up of animal biosecurity controls to manage the spread of disease effectively. We currently have a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak across various provinces, leading to a temporary ban on the export of livestock products. This presents severe financial challenges to those farmers.

These aren’t just challenges for the department of agriculture, land reform & rural development; they require the assistance of other line departments too. The agriculture department has established a task team on animal disease to look into the biosecurity challenges. The recommendations of the task team report should be implemented speedily, alongside the private sector.

In essence, we must improve our logistics, and water and electricity supply while engaging foreign governments to expand our agricultural export markets. This is critical to ensuring that this vital sector of the SA economy contributes positively to job creation and the vibrancy of rural towns. Some of these aspects are contained in the Agriculture & Agroprocessing Master Plan; still, it is worth re-emphasising them here.

Wandile Sihlobo, Chief economist, Agricultural Business Chamber of SA

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