South Africa’s trophy hunting industry is envisaged to grow to R10bn a year, a development that would allow it to contribute "a great deal" to job creation and the economy, Water and Environmental Affairs minister Edna Molewa said on Monday.

Ms Molewa was speaking at the department’s Hunting Indaba at Sun City, where industry experts and stakeholders said the industry employed 140,000 people and contributed R6bn to gross domestic product.

Hunting in South Africa was already bigger than the country’s dairy and sugar industries, said Confederation of Hunting Associations of South Africa chairman Stephen Palos.

Ms Molewa said there was room for more growth in the industry and "(we) do not believe we have realised that potential to the fullest".

Renewable energy and wildlife tourism are sectors being targeted by the government for transition to a green economy. "The government of South Africa, through the Department of Environmental Affairs, set aside R800m to establish a green fund and appointed the Development Bank of Southern Africa as implementing agent," Ms Molewa said.

Mr Palos said SA had untapped potential in the international hunting market, but because of the anti-hunting sentiment from lobby groups, this could be under threat.

"Government must continue to engage with industry and organisations. We must also aggressively market hunting and not hide it in tourism packages and we have to educate society about the benefits of hunting," he said.

North West University professor Melville Saayman said that while Australia had much less wildlife diversity than South Africa, its commercial utilisation of wildlife was a good example for South Africa to follow.

Ms Molewa said South Africa has played a positive role in conservation through hunting, and had been recognised by the International Conservation Union. But the chief operating officer at the Department of Environmental Affairs, Elizabeth McCourt, said the industry faced challenges, including complexities that emerged as a result of outdated regulation systems and the lack of an accepted national set of principles.

Awareness of the importance of conservation was stressed by United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, who said black communities were lagging in awareness of environmental issues.

Limpopo economic development, environment and tourism MEC Pinky Kekana said hunting was about more than just conservation. "There is a disjuncture between the views of state, regulation, industry and communities, who do not see industry gains as amounting to their benefit." The hunting industry provided "more job opportunities … faster than any other rural-based activity", she said.