Animal disease in the face of vaccine shortages. Port congestion. Access to land. These are some of the most pressing action points on the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development’s year planner, according to national minister Thoko Didiza.
In her response to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, Didiza said that the long-awaited agriculture and agro-processing master plan will be concluded next month, and the agriculture and land development agency will be ready to get to work. Both are hoped to help iron out massive challenges in the sector that are hindering growth.
Didiza also responded to contentious issues of the past year. “Among various interventions we will focus on, is the challenge of managing animal disease, which is critical for human health and safe meat for our consumers,” she said, and added that a team of experts from industry, academia and the department has already given a preliminary report on areas of improvement.
“The possible partnership on animal vaccine development without compromising the state capacity for such vaccines is critical. This is useful not only for the already established commercial farming subsector but many black farmers that aim to increase the livestock herds and commercialise.”
Although not expressly stated, this comment was seemingly against the backdrop of production challenges at the state-owned Onderstepoort Biological Products, which has been unable to produce some of the country’s most important livestock vaccines in recent months and have industry experts highly concerned for herd health in the country.
Collaborative effort to save exports
Didiza stressed that the export sector, which constituted about half of what we produce in value terms, needs protection.
“In 2021, amid challenges at our ports and unrest in some provinces, government, business, and labour managed to work collaboratively to ensure the continuous flow of the export products.
“The statistics we have for the first eleven months of 2021 show that South Africa’s agricultural exports reached a record $11.5 billion. This speaks to the large agricultural production of the past year and the social compact approach to facilitating exports.”
“We are engaging with Transnet and organised agriculture to respond to the near-term congestion challenges and long-term strategic intervention that boost the efficiency of our ports.”
She lamented that ports infrastructure was lacking though critical to ensuring that the sectors relying on them were not badly impacted.
A third pressing topic was land access to new black farmers. “There is work underway to ease land access. Similarly, we have agreed that there is a need for better working conditions for our workforce and to ensure tenure security for all.”
The minister highlighted various successful transfers of state land to farmers in the past year, and hoped to transfer the balance soon. This included the last of the 700 000 ha of agricultural land Ramaphosa had promised in 2020. She also hoped to conclude a land summit that had been planned for last year.
In highlighting the importance of fixing agriculture’s problems, she said the sector had been holding tight during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We must appreciate that in a society of higher poverty levels, inequality and low growth, getting agriculture going is critical for various reasons.
“In general, growth in agriculture is two to three times more effective at reducing poverty than an equivalent amount of growth generated outside agriculture.”
Opposition calls for better ‘basic support system’
When his time came to debate the State of the Nation Address, the Democratic Alliance’s portfolio committee member for agriculture, Noko Masipa, had a strongly worded message about the animal vaccine crisis. He added that corruption needed to be dealt with in state-owned entities.
“National Treasury approved R500 million for the Agricultural Research Council to build a new FMD vaccine plant. It is alleged that R100 million was used to upgrade offices, build a toilet and a new canteen for the CEO. Yet no one is held accountable for the mess.”
He felt government could not keep quiet when taxpayers’ money was being wasted on projects without success. “The failing of [Onderstepoort Biological Products] is a threat to animal health and the livestock industry. Your ANC cabinet is mum about the whole situation.”
He further called for a better basic support system from government to farmers and mentioned for example a young black farmer, Whernit Dirks, who had purchased a 400 ha farm through the Land Bank with the intention to commercialise it.
“A year later, his farm was hit by a three-year drought. He struggled to honour his yearly bank instalments. The Land Bank initiated the process to repossess his farm.”
“The truth is that nothing is happening towards reforming land ownership in rural areas. Yet no one is held to account for the mess. For businesses to invest meaningfully in rural areas, they need security of tenure.”
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