‘Dear government, please get your house in order’

2021 was marred with challenges for the farming community. Now two of Mzansi's biggest voices in agriculture are respectively calling on government to start doing better, and for mainstream agri to create space for black participation

Organised agriculture is asking that government step up its service delivery game to avoid history from repeating itself in 2022. Photo: Supplied/Unsplash

The recent increase in the repo rate by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) means that the cost of borrowing has gone up and farmers that are in debt will find themselves paying more. Photo: Supplied

Leaders in South African agriculture agree that 2021 – although not all bad – was marred with challenges for the sector. Many of the battles were triggered by rising input costs and poor service delivery. Now two of Mzansi’s biggest voices in agriculture are respectively calling on government departments and state-owned entities to get their house in order, and the industry at large to become more inclusive, to set the tone for a better 2022.

Both Christo van der Rheede of Agri SA and Neo Masithela of AFASA are confident that this year could be better for farmers and the country. This, as farmers have been forced to keep their heads high and do their bit in difficult circumstances to ensure that the country never faced a food crisis in recent months.

Pointing to Mzansi’s good rains so far, Van der Rheede, Agri SA’s executive director, says that the year has already started on a good foot for farmers, despite those who experienced flooding with a damaging impact on summer crops.

Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA executive director. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“We remain positive, however, and trust that farmers will recover from this… and that this [rainy weather] could result in a great agricultural year.”

But for this to happen, Van der Rheede says “state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and government need to get their house in order, especially for export farmers”.

“Whilst input costs such as labour, electricity, diesel, fertiliser and herbicides are continuously rising, export opportunities abound,” he says.

Service delivery and rural safety

Both Transnet and the department of transport must ensure that harbours, railways and road infrastructure are functioning optimally.

“The law-and-order agencies must also always maintain law and order.”

Van der Rheede further says that continual farm attacks are a great threat to the farming community, which could result in many job losses, and this matter needs to be addressed urgently by all stakeholders.

“Too many farmers and farmworkers are targeted and often get killed by criminals. This can no longer be tolerated as farm attacks and theft of farm produce, implements and infrastructure put food production and investment in such at risk,” he tells Food For Mzansi.

He says farmers continue to make the most out of a tough economic environment in the country, with a focus on creating more sustainable jobs.

Black participation in mainstream agriculture

Masithela, president of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA), says that addressing challenges faced by black farmers will remain a priority for them, which include a range of service delivery-related and sectoral issues that will enable black farmers to gain ground in agriculture.

AFASA chairperson Neo Masithela. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“We will continue with broad issues carried [over] from 2021, which are mainly to allow black farmers to participate in mainstream agriculture.

“Access to land, potable water and markets are issues we will continue pressing forward to.”

Masithela says AFASA will give its own input on the proposed minimum wage hike, to come into effect in March this year, through its relevant sub-committees.

“We have been very clear regarding the issues of minimum wage. Our stance has been that farmers need to pay farmworkers a decent salary so that they could also have a better life.”

AFASA is happy for the good rains of recent weeks, despite heavy downpours having destroyed crops in some instances and adding to some farmers’ woes.

Responding to the recent fuel price drop, Masithela says they are hopeful that the downward price movement will continue into the months ahead, “so that farmers can ensure that their production work is being done without heavy costs. We already have [so] many costs.”

ALSO READ: The best and worst of 2021: agri leaders’ ultimate list

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