While the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, was welcomed to the portfolio for the vast experience she brings to the office, leaders and experts in the agriculture sector have a long list of urgent priorities for her and her brand-new department to get to.
As part of his highly anticipated new cabinet, Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa announced Didiza as the minister of a newly combined department that brings agriculture, land reform and rural development under one roof.
This is widely considered to be a dramatic return after she first served as Thabo Mbeki’s Minister of Agriculture and Land Reform from 1999 to 2006. This time around she will be assisted by two deputy ministers, Sdumo Dlamini and Mcebisi Skwatsha.
In February, Didiza was elected to lead parliament’s committee that is drafting the bill needed to change Section 25 of the Constitution to make it easier to expropriate land without compensation.
‘In this sector we have no time’
Dr Vuyo Mathlati, President of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA), told Food For Mzansi she is very pleased with the appointment of Minister Thoko Didiza.
“AFASA is pleased because we are dealing with a person with a very clear understanding of both portfolios, agriculture and land reform. What we like is that it’s not going to take her long to learn or try to understand (the pressing issues), we are going to be dealing with a person who understands, so the catching up is going to be, hopefully, a quick process.”
“In this sector we have no time, in land reform and agriculture. There are three critical issues, we appreciate the leaner cabinet and the new minister of Agriculture and what we are hoping for at this stage is that there will be true investment from a budget perspective for both agriculture and land reform,” says Mahlati.
Thoko Didiza can allay land expropriation fears
“I think that farmers are very worried about that issue and that is one of the pressing issues for her,” he says. “One, is to allay fears around the issue of land expropriation, particularly with arable land and farms, because that’s obviously one element of land reform. That’s something that we’d have to engage with white farmers in particular to try and allay fears and say that we operate within a ruled, spaced environment. We are going to do it as the president has indicated in the particular manner, so that all parties feel satisfied.”
Didiza’s second priority should be undoing the results of government’s policy to close agricultural colleges. “The minister needs to begin re-establishing those agricultural colleges and to train black farmers, not exclusively, but in particular. This way we can begin to re-inculcate the culture where actually those who are interested in farming and agricultural processes needs to go to these agricultural colleges.”
He also feels strongly about the opening up of the market internationally to achieve higher levels of export of our fresh produce.
Thato Moagi, the Managing Director of Legae La Banareng Farms in Modimolle, welcomed Pres. Ramaphosa’s decision to unify the agriculture and land affairs departments. Moagi, who is also a member of the president’s advisory panel on land reform, says she is satisfied by the appointment of Thoko Didizi and looks forward to her work.
“I hope the new dispensation will focus on agrarian reform, working towards transforming the sector to engage with young entrepreneurs and enable support for the development of future farmers. They need access to knowledge, innovation and good partnerships in a secure operational environment,” says Moagi
‘Together, we will make SA great again’
Louis Meintjes, president of the Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa (TAU SA), says his organisation wishes Minister Thoko Didiza all the best in her new role. “As an organisation we will work together to make South Africa great again.”
Meintjes emphasises that what the TAU would expect from the Minister of Agriculture and any other minister and the President is that they would work for economic outcomes and not political outcomes.
“Putting SA first and not the ANC. We must have policy certainty and knowledgeable people in the departments working together with the role players to make SA a success. We need the Minister of Agriculture to put agriculture first and to make sure that obstacles are addressed, creating an environment for farmers to produce food for SA in a sustainable manner.”
Meintjes furthermore emphasised the need for a clean administration without corruption and with a focus on economic growth.
Agriculture as economic growth engine
Agricultural economist Hamlet Hlomendlini says it is imperative that Minister Thoko Didiza handles the merging of agriculture with land reform and rural development swiftly.
This will allow the department to make work of Ramaphosa’s emphasis on agriculture as economic growth engine and job creator, as stated in his State of The Nation Address earlier this year.
Hlomendlini, who is a Senior Agricultural Economist Specialist at Absa Agribusiness and columnist for Food For Mzansi, says there are pressing issues that the minister will have to address in a very short time, such as:
- Enhancing agricultural productivity, competitiveness, and rural growth. “In a nutshell, this will require the promotion of new technologies and reforming agricultural research and extension.”
- Reducing rural poverty through a socially inclusive strategy that comprises both agriculture as well as non-farm employment with a rural development strategy that also benefits the poor, landless, youth and women.
- Ensuring that new entrants in the sector are provided the support necessary to guarantee success, including aligning them with more improved and better extension services.
- From a technical perspective, the new minister will have to first ensure that she assembles a team that inspires great confidence in the majority of stakeholders. In this regard, the positions of a Director General, Deputy Directors General, Chief Directors, Director, and Deputy Director are crucial. “After all, it is the people that hold these positions that run the department, not necessarily the Minister.”
Kriek calls for “a legitimate land audit”
Dan Kriek, President of Agri SA and a member of Ramaphosa’s land reform panel, hopes the new minister will expand foreign market access and focus on boosting collaborations between government and state institutions and organised agriculture. He also thinks a legitimate land audit and increasing research competency should be high on Didiza’s agenda.
Kriek, who is a farmer himself, believes the minister can enable small business development by subsidising certification needed for market access. He’d like to see expansion of foreign market access, especially to South East Asian and European markets.
He encourages the minister to ring fence a substantial amount for development finance and to commit to exploratory discussions with the private sector on the establishment of an agricultural development fund. This while strengthening partnerships with commodity organizations that already have an established development footprint.
Collaboration with the National Animal Health Forum and organised agriculture is also essential to improve biosecurity.
Kriek says Thoko Didiza‘s department should strengthen collaboration with Water Affairs and Sanitation to ensure water licenses are available in line with development objectives. The Agricultural Research Council should also be properly resourced in order to increase South Africa’s international competitiveness.
Call for comprehensive land resettlement plan
Pitso Sekhoto, deputy chairperson of the Agri Sector Unity Forum (ASUF), says he would like to see a comprehensive land resettlement plan implemented for socio-economic and sustainable development. Sekhoto, who also farms with livestock, says he would like to see resources made accessible to farmers, including water and funding.
“What the new minister also urgently needs to tackle is the alignment of land reform with agrarian reform. She needs to come up with new insurance policies for farmers. These few points will enable farmers to create more jobs on our farms.”