Johannesburg - Small farmers need upliftment to become commercially more viable, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said on Monday.
She told the African Farmers Association of SA she understood the problems they faced.
"We don't want our farmers to remain 'emerging' or 'smallholder' farmers forever," Joemat-Pettersson said.
"We need them to take part in the economy of our country, to take part in export businesses, and to also make money just like commercial farmers."
South Africa has 230 000 land reform beneficiaries and emerging farmers, and 35 000 commercial farmers.
Current problems in the agriculture sector included a shrinking commercial farmer community, inadequate assistance to smallholder farmers, increasingly rising food prices, and climate change.
"We simply cannot only rely on commercial farmers to feed a country of 50 million people and still provide to the export market," she said.
"If we continue in this manner we will be making ourselves vulnerable to outside factors like drought."
Some of the constraints that small farmers faced related to lack of access to land and poor infrastructure.
Most of them were located in rural areas and mostly in the former homelands, where a lack of both physical and institutional infrastructure, like proper roads, limited their expansion.
"Our government is working extremely hard to assist smallholder farmers to become commercial farmers. We are working very hard to turn rural areas into commercially viable zones.
"We need to make the sector attractive to start-ups so that we can diversify it, if not to create employment then for food security."
Joemat-Pettersson said she realised smallholder farmers faced difficulties in obtaining finance.
"I would like to encourage [them] to form co-operatives and work with commercial farmers to hone their skills. Produce can be sold as a collective to a market," she said.
"My goal, and I hope we all share in the same vision, is to see smallholder farmers graduate to commercial farmers."