South Africa’s AgriBEE charter has come under much public scrutiny since its launch almost a decade ago. Some say the country has made good progress in integrating new farmers into mainstream agriculture, while others say the charter is just a document that never left the shelf. A third, surprising view as that we don’t really know exactly.
Following the creation of the AgriBEE Charter Council in December 2008, the AgriBEE Sector Code was gazetted in December 2012. This charter was meant to drive the inclusion of black South Africans in all levels of the sector, but many experts believe it is not achieving its mandate.
Thabile Nkunjana, an agricultural economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council, says the sector code has been heavily criticised since its establishment under the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act (Act 53 of 2003, as amended by B-BBEE Act 46 of 2013). “The scrutiny intensified as public impatience mounted, a problem that has persisted [to this day].”
In principle, Nkunjana explains, the AgriBEE programme envisioned to change the lopsided nature of the agricultural sector by getting more previously disadvantaged individuals to participate in the broader economy. But despite opposing and supporting arguments around the programme and the act regulating it, the one area of consensus is that a more efficient approach is needed to monitor and analyse the act’s impact on transforming the sector.
“To this day there is not enough of that [monitoring and analysis]. As a result, it may appear as if the objectives of the act have not been met, which might be a blanket statement that doesn’t do the act justice.”
‘AgriBEE is working’
In her recent address at a women farmers’ dialogue in Limpopo, South Africa’s minister in the presidency for women, youth and persons with disabilities, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said that the AgriBEE charter had driven good progress in integrating new farmers into mainstream agriculture.
According to her, evaluation and monitoring systems for AgriBEE activities are set up and used at a national, provincial, regional and local level.
“Implementation of AgriBEE is based on the commodity value chain approach. This approach is integral to creating linkages, partnerships and networks for balanced, mutually benefiting results for all concerned.” She further said that the value chain or linkage approach is important in ensuring competitiveness, sustainability and expansion for new businesses in the sector.
Questions remain, however, around traditional value chains’ openness to transformation and the pace of change.
Limitations in law
Ndivhuho Phungo, deputy chairperson of South Africa’s AgriBEE Council, says that there are limitations in B-BBEE law.
As participation is not compulsory for all businesses according to the law, and there are no legal enforcement measures, success rides on voluntary compliance and only those who need BEE points might buy into the programme.
“The measured entities choose their own beneficiaries. Subsequently only individuals with some influence in society who, in most cases, are well off already and do not derive their livelihood from any agricultural activity, get the exposure – at the expense of struggling agricultural entrepreneurs.”
Phungo says that, on the flipside, some empowerment initiatives that businesses practise with their beneficiaries are not recognisable by the code. The nett effect is that the “elements of empowerment” in their current form limit measuring entities that may desire to comply.
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