Revitalised rural economies
In the last two years the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency (ECRDA) has been at the forefront of utilising and giving effect to empowering rural development instruments and tools which should continue to revitalise the dormant potential of the province’s agricultural sector. In this regard, the institution continues to position itself as an effective vehicle and agent of socio-economic change for those in the rural sector and the hinterland. The Eastern Cape rural sector faces varied socio-economic challenges which threaten the viability of rural communities and economies. One of these challenges is rapid urbanisation which has led to the neglect of prized rural assets and real estate such as arable land which has been lying fallow for generations. In effect, rural communities continue to become owners of unproductive assets which should be used as the primary source of wealth generation.
Comprehensive rural development strategy
As a special purpose vehicle and an empowering agent of government, ECRDA has a dedicated focus on formulating, promoting and ensuring the implementation of a comprehensive and empowering integrated rural development strategy for the Eastern Cape. At the centre of this strategic posture is the revitalisation of rural assets into productive clusters that have an inherent potential to change the nature and character of the rural landscape. One of these assets is the identification and use of arable land for primary production and value addition for the benefit of participating rural communities. This is meant to create a viable and profitable commercial rural economy to stimulate long-term and sustainable economic activity. This should provide further impetus to stem the tide of increased migration to the urban economic centres of the province.
In this regard, ECRDA identified agro-processing as a requisite value addition tool as a means to bolster the production value chain in the rural economy. ECRDA continues to consolidate its focus on accelerating the eradication of challenges which continue to impede the development and growth of the agro-processing sector and related industries in the rural hinterland. These challenges include high mechanisation costs, long distance to market, high transport and opportunity costs to market, lack of access to localised grain storage facilities and value addition services, low skills base and technical knowledge as well as access to inputs and support services.
RED HUB implementation
As a direct, coordinated and spirited response to these challenges faced by small-scale farmers, ECRDA has driven the development and implementation of ECRDA’s Rural Enterprise Development (RED) Hubs. The RED Hubs have a special focus on primary production, processing and marketing with the view of keeping money circulating within the community for as long as is possible. The RED Hub therefore prioritises the establishment of mechanisation units with machinery and implements such as tractors, harvesters for production. In addition, it encourages the development of storage and processing facilities such as the installation of grain storage silos and the establishment of milling plants for value addition purposes. Furthermore, the Hubs advocate for the establishment of marketing services in the form of trading centres which should be a one-stop shop for farmers to procure all production inputs. For example, currently, farmers grow produce and sell it to the manufacturing hubs for processing and value addition which is then sold back to rural communities at a higher price. The RED Hub seeks to reverse this anomaly and it ensures that production within the community, stored and processed in the community and sold within the community. Consequently, in the review period, ECRDA began the steady implementation of four RED Hubs with the establishment of storage and processing facilities, mechanisation units and trading centres in Mqanduli, Ncorha, Lady Frere and Bizana in the OR Tambo, Chris Hani and Alfred Nzo district municipalities respectively.