The newly elected chairperson of the National African Farmers Union (Nafu) in Mpumalanga, Lukas Mahlangu, says he will hit the ground running to ensure that his organisation builds bridges for skills transfer and works towards growth and development in the sector.
Mahlangu believes that access to markets is key for many black farmers in the province and it is through collaborations that such goals are realised.
Food For Mzansi caught up with him to hear his thoughts on a few pertinent matters.
Tiisetso Manoko: Congratulations on your election! What are the immediate tasks that the Nafu leadership will be dealing with in Mpumalanga?
Lukas Mahlangu: Giving particular attention to historically disadvantaged black farmers is essential to our mandate to address the high levels of wealth and race-based inequalities.
The limited role of black farmers because of land dispossession under apartheid and the failure of the democratic state reforms to bring substantial change, have perpetuated poverty and inequality. Those are some of the aspects we want to address as organised agriculture in our area so that we can all eat from one basket.
What are the greatest challenges that farmers in the province face and how can the union help them?
The impact of Covid-19 and the lack of intervention from government negatively affected farmers in the province, so it will be our duty as the union to really hold their hands and try to assist them.
On the production side we have farmers who must work with high operational costs. A lack of inputs and transportation disruptions are some of the challenges that farmers are dealing with.
On the weather side cold spells and floods exacerbated the circumstances of farmers who were barely coping.
The union was formed with the intention of assisting or being the voice of mostly rural farmers who might struggle along the way due to different challenges in the sector, which might force them to close shop. This follows infrastructure challenges that farmers have come across in the previous years.
The union will seek to engage government on critical farming aspects such as water rights applications, financial support, market linkages, access to markets, land access and addressing bottlenecks.
Nafu was established in 1991 to address the needs of black farmers. What do you think is expected from you as its leader?
I am highly honoured to be nominated to serve within a sector that is key for economic transformation and food security and nutrition. So, I want to contribute to the sector that seeks to transform the economy and the lives of the people so that we can achieve developmental goals of making sure our society is food secured.
What is on the union’s agenda in the year ahead?
We cannot ignore the significance of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement that was launched in 2019. This is a game changer for farmers who are in the export market.
Its implementation must benefit farmers in Mpumalanga and translate into their growth if they are to be competitive. It is for that reason that we want to see African farmers in Mpumalanga being actively involved in trading in Africa.
We must strive to see agricultural cooperatives breaking the ceiling to grow into viable and sustainable businesses which will create much-needed jobs.
Cooperation and collaboration should define how we engage stakeholders and role players in the sector.
Nafu is part of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc). What is your message to government?
Cut the red tape and simplify customs procedure. This will bring significant income gains and growth in the sector that is crucial to economic growth. South Africa was hit hard by Covid-19, which caused millions of people to lose their jobs and incomes, including in our province.
At the same time food prices are skyrocketing leaving more people, especially the vulnerable, to be food insecure. It is for this reason that we call on government to create a conducive environment for farmers to do business.
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