Saturday, October 9, 2010

Minister mulls using excess maize for biofuel

SA needs to re-examine its current policy on biofuels which would see the country use its excess maize without threatening food security, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said on Friday.

"It is not only about food production. It is also about energy, development and saving and therefore with the excessive maize surplus, we as a government need to look again at our biofuels policy," she told delegates at the annual AgriSA Congress in Johannesburg.

The country needed to find new markets and opportunities for its agriculture products.

She cautioned that her department alone did not determine the country's biofuel policy.

A national biofuel policy, drawn up in conjunction with commercial farmers, was needed to ensure food security was not threatened.

The Democratic Alliance's deputy energy spokesperson David Ross welcomed Joemat-Pettersson's comments.

"[She] is to be commended for putting aside party differences and moving her department towards the adoption of DA proposals for an end to the ban on South Africa's maize being sold for ethanol production," he said.

The minister told delegates commercial farmers were not the enemies of the African National Congress, but were considered necessary for the country's future prosperity.

She said at the recent ANC's national general council in Durban it had been accepted that commercial agriculture had an important role to play.

"It is the first time in the history of the ANC that the words commercial farmers were not used as a swear word. It was a big breakthrough. It was the first time in the history of the ANC that [farmers] were not seen as the enemy of South Africa, but that commercial farmers are the cornerstone of rural development."

She said the media had focused so much on ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema that it had missed the NGC's "absolute horror and disgust" at the ongoing farm murders.

She told delegates that "expressions made by individuals" didn't necessarily echo ANC policies.

"My role is to speak for all farmers at all levels, not just the small farmers. It is a very difficult task. It is the first time that we accept that ANC politicians also speak on behalf of commercial farmers. That is a huge change that has taken place in our country."

She said she had informed ANC leaders in Durban of the difficulties faced by commercial farmers.

While she would on occasion have differences with farmers, Joemat-Pettersson promised to speak to them before going public with her differences.

Problems facing the agriculture sector included production costs and the strengthening rand. It could only meet the country's future food requirements if energy and electricity problems were properly addressed.

The energy affairs department had recently made efforts, with the assistance of Agri SA, to keep recent diesel price hikes to a minimum.

The minister said her office was forging ahead with the re-establishment of agricultural colleges to train aspiring farmers. - Sapa

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