As the year 2023 winds down, farmers and leaders in organised agriculture have mixed reactions on how the year has been. While some are looking back with joy and jubilation, others are counting losses and not even hopeful of the coming year.
Challenges ranging from high fuel costs, input costs, bad roads, load shedding, unpredictable climate, and unreliable government support have dented the spirits of many food producers.
‘It has not been easy’
For Aobakwe Selebogo, a livestock farmer from Morokweng, North West, 2023 has not been the best year for him. He still recalls his worst day of this year, 16 March, when 21 of his livestock were struck dead by lighting.
“I have gone through a lot this year. Of the cattle that perished, 11 were pregnant heifers and five had calves. I decided to quit farming but decided that it had been a difficult year and that quitting was not a solution so I ended up continuing.
“The government has not helped up until today. Financially, it is a mess, I always made a profit with those cows when I sold them but now I lost 21 cows and it’s a wound that I do not think will ever heal. I cannot make a profit now,” he said.
For him, losing his cattle without getting any help from the government did not make his recovery any easier, Selebogo complained that he did not even receive aid to bury the dead cattle, leaving him to burn the corpses himself.
Selebogo said the pain of seeing the livelihood going away right in front of his eyes would take time to heal. And adding salt to the wound, the recent heatwave made farming practices more difficult and the thought of 2024 is not promising.
“I do not think 2024 will be better for me because when I look at the weather conditions in South Africa right now, the heatwaves can ignite wildfires.
“I am left with three heifers with three calves and one bull. If I go to the department of agriculture, they refer me to disaster management, and until today, I have not received a response. No one helped me,” he said.
Hopes for a better 2024
Meanwhile, for Limpopo and Johannesburg crop farmer Sophy Musabeni, 2023 has been an amazing year because she has managed to buy 20 hectares of farmland in Boksburg, Johannesburg.
“This has been a very good year for me. I did not have an irrigation system on the 20-hectare farm, but I have managed to get a new one installed that I got from a second-hand sale and now I have managed to plant crops on 10 hectares. Not having irrigation was challenging but I am sorted now,” she said.
While the year has been a good one for her, finances were not so good because all forms of profits were put into improving the business.
“The memories I have of this year are good though. I won a lot of awards. I won the New Harvest of the Year Award from Agri Gauteng and then I also won the New Entrance of Commercial Farming Award from Agri Writers. So for me, it was a very good year in terms of achievements,” she said.
For her, 2024 is going to be better than 2023 because she is going to open a new processing company which is exciting and everything is already panning out.
Loss of international competitiveness
Executive director of the Southern African Afri Initiative Theo De Jager said it was a difficult year for agriculture for each commodity. But overall after Covid-19, he believes the world became a very small place for farmers, and even those who produce for the local markets were faced with the reality of the impact of global production and international shocks.
“The challenges for farmers in 2023 in terms of our competitiveness has been in infrastructure, especially the issue with our ports, which still has not improved.
“Load shedding has kept us from accessing electricity when we need it the most, especially during the times of the heatwaves. Then there’s the issue of poor roads and the price of electricity and diesel,” he said.
De Jager said the challenges undermined the country’s ability to do well in global competitiveness and it has become easier for competitive countries to bring cheap food to compete with locally made ones on the shelves of local shops.
“If it was not for private efforts such as that of the cluster of organisations, we would have lost hundreds more farmers who would have left the sector.
“The heatwaves and continuous power cuts which ranged from stage 6 to 8, have shown us the failure of service provision, which has caused some farmers financial strain,” he said.
‘Black farmers need to unite
Meanwhile, Nationa African Farmers Union (NAFU) president Motsespe Matlala believes 2023 has been a very difficult year for farmers in terms of production.
Matlala said load shedding has played a negative role in ensuring that the developmental part of black farmers was advanced to the level it should be.
Lack of unity
“When we look at the production and contribution thereto of our members and members of other formations in black agriculture, I think we continue to be divided and compete for the same territory, and that has also continued to be a problem, which has been a problem for a while,” he said.
Matlala said capacity building going into 2024 needs to be a priority for all organisations.
“I think we need to grow up as black farmers because I think our arrogance among ourselves needs to be sorted. The government also needs to intervene to ensure that we have a united front in the business because we must appreciate that farming is not politics and it can never be politics.
“Farming is a science and business, an economic base of any country in the world and our little differences where we do not gel together is going to create a lot of problems for future generations,” he said.
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