As Mzansi prepares to listen to finance minister Enoch Godongwana’s first budget speech later today, the vote is unanimous throughout the agricultural sector: the country needs infrastructure investment from its government.
While the country finds itself in a difficult financial position, leaders are hopeful that the minister will follow through on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address during which he announced significant commitments on infrastructural development: at least R100 billion set aside from the fiscus for the next ten years.
According to Agri SA chief economist Kulani Siweya, working roads, railways and harbours are vital if the agricultural sector is to continue on a firm footing, and if the economy is to recover more broadly, grow and create more jobs for South Africans.
“This growth will, in turn, accelerate South Africa’s ability to address pressing fiscal challenges facing the country,” Siweya says.
Free State Agriculture’s commercial manager, Jack Armour, agrees that infrastructure has to be a priority in the budget – most importantly the upgrading and the creation of new roads. The province has seen the worst of dilapidated roads in recent years with little help coming from provincial government.
“It is clear that the budget for road repairs in the Free State has dried up. Minister Mbalula confirmed this in a parliamentary feedback session last week. It’s the same story this time every year: road repairs hang in limbo and everybody is waiting for the new budget.”
He feels that, as roads are critical to the country’s socio-economic development, they need urgent attention. “Our roads are the lifeblood linking rural areas, where our food is produced, to the cities where it is processed and eaten. The current situation with our roads is unsustainable and it has a huge impact on food security and affordability.”
Time to fix SA roads
Agricultural economist Thabile Nkunjana from South Africa’s National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) says he would like to see how much the minister will allocate to immediate needs such as getting ports working at their optimal efficiency.
“Other important infrastructural development related to agriculture, in the near term, are water and electricity. It will be interesting to hear how the minister will approach these as well, as they are important for the agriculture and agro-processing master plans’ aspirations,” says Nkunjana.
The country is entering a very busy market period for citrus and avocados, and having supporting infrastructure to solidify the country’s position in the global market is important, he adds.
“South Africa exports around 40% of its production in value terms, meaning we are heavily inclined towards the global market and, therefore, the country’s connections to the world need to be operating at the highest efficiency, especially during peak periods of the marketing seasons.”
Meanwhile, farmers who have been hit hard by natural disasters recently, hopes to see some relief earmarked for them. Mashudu Thobakgale, a small-scale farmer from Venda in Limpopo, hopes that the budget will provide for farmers who have suffered major losses.
“We hope that the minister will introduce some form of a fund to help those who have lost their harvests due to weather-related or natural disasters such as the fruit fly infestation or any other damage that is out of the control of the farmer.”
Thobakgale says they have lost tomatoes last year due to the worst recorded frost in over six decades. Besides it being devastating to all farmers in the area, vegetable crop insurance is expensive and unaffordable to most small-scale farmers.
“If the government could introduce an insurance-type product that one can claim as support, to go back to production or at least recover the seedlings cost and staff cost, one [will be] able to continue to pay the staff in the absence of the harvest.”
Meanwhile, Agri Western Cape poins out that the National Risk Management Centre declared the drought afflicting many producers in the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape, a national disaster in mid-2021.
“However, it is still unclear what the extent and format of support for these drought-stricken areas will be. Agri Western Cape hopes that minister Godongwana has some good news in this regard,” the organisation writes in a media statement.
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