Ugu South Coast Development Agency Ugu South Coast Development Agency

Economists are quoted as saying South Coast agriculture is more important than its tourism.

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AN article that appeared in the Mercury recently has revived a long-standing debate over the relative merits of tourism versus agriculture on the South Coast.

In the article, ‘Salvation of the South Coast’, written by Colleen Dardagan, Frikkie Brookes from the provincial planning commission urged the South Coast to focus on agriculture rather than tourism. However, South Coast business people appear to be in agreement: there is great potential for both industries in this area.

“The tourism versus agriculture debate should not be clouded in negativity and be a ‘choose one syndrome’. I can find no plausible reasons why both these sectors cannot be primary drivers of our economy. The fact that our local economy has the propensity to accommodate both sectors points to strengths and opportunities,” Ugu District municipal manager DD Naidoo said.

He added that the debate showed that the South Coast had two very strong industries. It was up to the South Coast’s leadership to ensure that both lived up to their potential.

Commenting on the article, Ugu South Coast Tourism chief executive Justin Mackrory advocated a multifaceted economy as protection against an economic downturn, as well as a holistic approach to the economic development of this area. However, he believed that tourism rather than agriculture was currently the most likely industry to create and sustain jobs.

“Something like 67 percent of our greater South Coast economy, through direct, indirect and induced spend, is reliant on tourism. It is clear that tourism is presently the forefront economic sector in the area. It still requires growth and a coordinated developmental approach in terms of attractions, events and tourism support infrastructure in order to retain destination competitiveness,” he said.

He believed that the retention of institutional and private sector support for the tourism sector should be continued. If the agricultural sector was to realise any new developmental impetus it should be done without compromising the existing focus on tourism.

Agriculture on the South Coast has, over the last few years, faced a number of difficulties. Farmers in this area have had to deal with the recent increase in the minimum wage for farm workers and unresolved land claims that have discouraged investment in their industry.

Even so, Olliver Ransome, chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, said he believed agriculture in this area had enormous potential.

However, commenting on the rather bleak picture of South Coast tourism the Mercury article painted – a once-fashionable playground that had failed to keep up with the times – Prof Ransome said his organisation believed tourism was still the economic engine of the area.

“In the short term there is huge potential and we have identified the factors that can help achieve this,” he said.

He urged all involved in the tourism industry to remember that theirs was a highly competitive business. They had to keep their product, the South Coast, in tip-top conditon.

“We have stiff competition. We have to keep up with popular holiday destinations like the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, beautiful Western Cape towns like Hermanus and the Garden Route. To do so we need to maximise our many advantages,” he said.

Local government had a major role to play. It needed to attend to safety, cleanliness and the enforcement of by-laws. The area had experienced some problems with these issues but there had been a definite improvement recently, he said.

While agriculture was an important South Coast industry, it could not be described as the most important, said Blaine Peckham, the president of the South Coast Banana Growers’ Association. It was, though, an industry that should not be overlooked. He believed it had huge potential for creating jobs with a minimal outlay of money.

According to figures that were given to Prof Ransome, tribal trustland made up about 38 percent or 300 000 hectares of the Ugu District. When asked if this land had agricultural potential, Mr Peckham said there was a great deal of goodwill among established commercial farmers who were looking at ways of mentoring and assisting small-scale rural farmers. There were already projects started by commercial farmers in the rural areas that were being successfully maintained, he said.

“As a region let us agree that both tourism and agriculture can be the lifeblood of our economy,” Mr Naidoo concluded. He called on everyone to use this fact as a catalyst to grow the economy.