Covid-19: Protect agri-workers at all cost, pleads Free State MEC

The Farmer's Inside Track Lockdown Diaries: Day 8 of 21

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Free State MEC for agriculture and rural development William Bulwane has stressed the importance of remaining vigilant and ensuring that the protection of agri-workers are given utmost consideration during the covid-19 lockdown.

Bulwane visited ITAU Milling and Animal Feeds in Bloemfontein yesterday to show his appreciation to agricultural producers who are continuing to feed the nation during the pandemic. ITAU is a leading supplier of maize meal, flour and animal feeds.

The MEC’s visit coincided with news that the number of confirmed infections worldwide now exceeds one million. Earlier this week the Free State has reported its first fatality from the novel coronavirus and the province was also identified as a potential hotspot.

Dr. Takisi Masiteng, acting head of department, accompanied Bulwane. They implored agricultural enterprises to ensure that their workers are given the much-needed safety gear and hand sanitisers to help protect them against the deadly virus. Whilst most of the nation is in lockdown, the agri-sector continues working because it is an essential service.

Representatives of the ITAU group with Free State MEC for agriculture and rural development William Bulwane.

Bulwane also challenged ITAU to partner with the provincial government in reaching out to impoverished communities, including learners who are dependent on school feeding schemes as their only source of food. Dr. Nic Spaul, an education economist at Stellenbosch University, estimates that 9 million children in South Africa have been left stranded due to the prolonged break because of the lockdown.

ITAU has assured Bulwane of the workers’ safety, and have also committed to support government as far as possible to champion positive change in the agri-communities in which they operate.

Afasa implores rural farmers to heed covid-19 warnings

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Meanwhile the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa) has been hard at work to inform small-scale farmers in rural communities about the importance of self-isolation and personal hygiene during the covid-19 pandemic.

Afasa president Dr. Vuyo Mahlati has also asked farmers, their families and workers to participate in the mass-screening for the new coronavirus currently being rolled out throughout Mzansi.

Afasa president Dr. Vuyo Mahlati

Mahlati, Afasa office bearers and heads of commodities agreed to specifically target those in cooperatives and “poorly connected rural areas”.

The organisation confirms in a media release that because small-scale farming is often a family business it is of particular importance to ensure that hygiene and social distancing is observed.

Also, vulnerable women and child-headed households need to be supported in this time. In 2015, Stats SA’s general household survey showed that there were about 90 000 children in 50 000 child-headed households in South Africa.

Afasa has called on the Land Bank and commercial banks to suspend the payment of farm loans for the next four months in the wake of the pandemic. Increased consumer prices for those residing in rural areas should also be monitored and reported. Afasa says, “As it stands, rural consumers pay a higher price than their urban counterparts on milk, butter and sugar products. Farmers are to explore mechanisms of closing the local supply gap.”

MPO ‘appalled’ by Lancewood price shocker to dairy farmers

In other news, Agri SA calls for understanding and considerate conduct in agricultural value chains during the covid-19 lockdown period. The organisation says the agricultural sector has a massive responsibility to ensure food security during the unprecedented lockdown, and also in the trying economic times ahead.

“In our endeavours, we have to acknowledge the interdependency of the agricultural value chain segments and the reciprocal effect that each has on the other,” says Jolanda Andrag, Agri SA commodity chamber head.

“In our journey to stay economically sustainable as a sector, we should also be cognisant of producers as price takers who are currently absorbing a significant increase in inputs costs.”

Omri van Zyl, executive director of Agri SA

Furthermore, Agri SA has acknowledged a statement by the Milk Producers Organisation’s (MPO) on price reductions in parts of the dairy industry.

Omri van Zyl, Agri SA executive director, says, “In the current uncertainty, when prices are reduced significantly on the supply side of the market without any notable changes on the demand side, it creates unnecessary frustration and additional economic strain on producers. It remains imperative to keep farmers in business to ensure the viability of the whole food system.”

The MPO says they are appalled by the 45c per litre reduction in the dairy farmers’ price paid by Lancewood. This division of Libstar Holdings, a cheese manufacturing company, informed farmers of this earlier this week in a letter titled “Covid-19 Farmers’ Communication”. Farmers were also informed that in addition to imposing a levy deduction, Lancewood might need to adjust payment terms temporarily.

Agri SA says that they will continue working towards the competitiveness of the whole agricultural value chain.

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