Let me thank you for being with us to share our joy as we celebrate this special agricultural event. To the best of my knowledge this tunnel project is the first of its kind to serve both the mentally and the physically disabled. I congratulate the community of the S Dass School on having the inspired vision to undertake such a project with its exciting and far-reaching opportunities. Once the long months of planning and development are behind you, and the plans have become a reality, they will open doors which will give to the community of the S Dass School a new found freedom, a sense of economic achievement, improved nutritional status at an affordable price, and provide up to 150 indirect and 120 direct job opportunities. Such employment opportunities would not be limited to crop production, but would also include life skills, business management, and construction skills.
As such, this project is directly in line with the Xoshindlala (Chase Away Hunger) Campaign which I launched last year on behalf of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture. This Campaign is aimed at relieving the most basic of human needs, that of hunger. My Department is now focussing its energies on alleviating hunger, and improving the quality of life of all the people of this Province. While keeping focussed on these major aims, this campaign can also address other vital concerns, as outlined in our White Paper on Agriculture. Such projects include sustainable land use; home food security; marketing of agricultural produce; youth in agriculture; gender issues and the promotion of income-generating enterprises.
The value of these projects
The potential to adapt many of these projects for implementation in communities for the mentally and physically disabled is vast, and often is restricted only by the inexperience of the greater community. I hope that there soon will be many such agricultural projects which offer to the physically and the mentally challenged the opportunity to experience a real sense of self-sufficiency. In this case, for example, soon they will be producing fruit and vegetables for themselves, and in time, they will be able to produce a surplus of these perishable foodstuffs, for which there is always a ready market. In that way they will be become active participants in the marketplace, and above all, will be able to contribute to their own financial support, and in some cases, become fully self-sufficient.
An additional advantage of this project, as every gardener will attest, is that these new gardeners will be joining the ranks of those who thrill to delight of planting seeds, nurturing plants and harvesting their bounty, as well as enjoying the boundless pleasure and infinite relaxation of working with the soil, and to the delight of their physical therapists, also obtaining a gentle and healing form of exercise.
The role of KZNDOA in these Agri Projects
Some of you may be puzzled about the involvement of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture in what most people would not normally consider to be part and parcel of conventional agriculture. Let me explain. Last year, when I was considering the allocation of my Discretionary Fund, there were many applications for assistance, beyond that which normally had been provided by my Department.
Towards a fuller understanding of the word "agriculture"
In the mean time, my Department and I had been reviewing the relevance of agriculture, as conventionally defined, to our situation in KwaZulu-Natal, and seeking a new definition. The picture that emerged showed us a type of agriculture that was more broadly-based and which seemed to entrench the very basic principles of absolute democracy. We saw a type of agriculture that was of the people, by the people, and for the people.
In this type of agriculture, the goods produced would meet the requirements of the people for food, fuel and fibre, and would be produced by the people using machinery to produce more products, more economically; and would not rely on machines to replace people who desperately needed work. This new agriculture would be developed in those directions that would be the best for all the people of KwaZulu-Natal, such as creating the maximum number of economically viable, sustainable jobs for the people who really wanted to be engaged in agriculture. Simultaneously, the new agriculture would seek to develop sustainable markets for their produce. My Department and I recognised that this new agriculture would be based on a wholistic approach within which urban agriculture (including school and community gardens); home economics; and self-sufficiency handcrafts (which often are reliant on the use of natural fibres), would form integral parts.
Agricultural potential of KwaZulu-Natal
It is one thing to devise exciting new definitions for agriculture, but the real challenge lies in having the creative insight and the inspired managerial ability to realise the potential of these ideas. For it is only then that this Province will be able to meet the challenge of unlocking its vast untapped agricultural potential and realise an increase of 366% over the present levels of agricultural production which will be accompanied by a dramatic increase in sustainable work opportunities.
The place of "urban agriculture"
It is within this new, dynamic concept of agriculture and its place for urban agriculture, that we can position the agri-project envisaged by the S Dass School. Such projects can do much to promote the concept, and the practice, of "urban agriculture".
Appeal for greater involvement in agricultural development partnerships
In my capacity as Minister of Agriculture for KwaZulu-Natal, I appeal to the Diplomatic Corps, to businessmen and to representatives from Non-Government Organizations to join me, and my Department, in assisting such development projects. Let me assure anyone interested in becoming involved in such partnerships that support in all forms will be welcome. For example, with particular regard to this project, such assistance could be in the form of seeds, gardening equipment, agro-chemicals, seedling trays, packaging punnets for selling the surplus, as well as construction materials and tools for maintenance and expansion of the facilities.
I am humbly grateful that my Department and I were able to assist this very worthwhile agri-project within our Xoshindlala (Chase Away Hunger) Campaign. But I am the first to acknowledge that this support has been merely a drop in the ocean of what is needed in the total sphere of integrated rural development, and the more recently identified field of urban agriculture. There is an immense need for further assistance to all forms of integrated rural development and to similar urban agriculture projects, as well as to all organizations that assist the physically and the mentally challenged.
My Department and I believe that by developing strong, and vibrant agricultural communities we will be improving the quality of life of these communities. By developing viable rural communities, we will be making a positive contribution towards halting the drift of the rural unemployed to the cities in search of work. For those many workless people who have already left the rural areas and sadly, have found that the city did not offered any solution, we believe that "urban agriculture" could provide a return to the dignity of being able to earn their own honest living.
Role of home industries in rural development
For example, within the umbrella of our Xoshindlala Campaign, my Department plays an active part in promoting the development of home industries among the women of the community. Particular emphasis is placed on acquiring, and then developing income-generating skills, as well as on developing sustainable markets for these goods. To this end, my Department hosted a Home Industries and Marketing Summit a few months ago.
As Minister of Agriculture, I am committed to ensuring that my Department and I strive to provide service excellence to all the people of this Province. Within that very demanding challenge there will be those projects where the provision of service excellence will not seem like work, but seem more like a privilege that enriches and inspires all the officials who are involved. These are the projects where the recipients are highly motivated, determined and committed to realising the potential of the project, and thus their own potentials. My staff and I know that all those involved in this agri-project are highly motivated, determined and committed to realising its potential and, in so doing, will find their own potential has developed accordingly.
I leave you with my best wishes, and of my Department of Agriculture. May all your endeavours, and particularly your urban agricultural projects, prosper, grow, and become self-sustaining commercial operations that contribute actively, and accountably, to the
S Dass School community. In so doing, may this community serve as a shining example to all the people of KwaZulu-Natal.
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