End state of disaster now, pleads agriculture giants

Agri SA and Agri-Expo urged government to end the national state of disaster amid uncertainty about the future of the wine, wool, cotton and wildlife industries. Afasa, however, believed more time was needed to fully vaccinate farmers and workers

After two years of business restriction, President Cyril Ramaphosa has finally confirmed the end of the Covid-triggered national state of disaster. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

After two years of business restriction, President Cyril Ramaphosa has finally confirmed the end of the Covid-triggered national state of disaster. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Amid mounting pressure on government to end the national state of disaster, the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa) said more time is needed to vaccinate the agriculture sector.

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

This, after President Cyril Ramaphosa this week confirmed high-level talks to possibly end the Covid-19 measure which has been in place since March 2020. According to the health department more than 28 million South Africans have now received the coronavirus jab.

Afasa president Neo Masithela, however, told Food For Mzansi that it was important to reach vaccination targets before a decision was made.

“From our perspective, Covid-19 is still with us. We are still losing people today because of this pandemic, so we are saying let us reach our herd immunity before anything is decided. We do not want this to be scrapped at the expense of anyone. Yes, we want the agricultural sector to be back in full swing, but we also call on people to be vaccinated.”

Agri SA hits back

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

While Agri SA president Christo van der Rheede agrees that more farmers and workers should be vaccinated, he supports the call for the national state of disaster to be lifted, possibly on 14 February 2022.

“We call on government to consider lifting the state of national disaster declaration so that we can go back to normal, but we are also adamant that all of our members should be vaccinated fully,” he said.

Van der Rheede said although agriculture was declared an essential service since the pandemic first hit Mzansi, the sector remains under great pressure because of it.

He singled out the wine industry “which is picking up the pieces of several lockdown regulations imposed on it. They experienced serious financial losses during the [earlier trade] ban on alcohol and tobacco. Even when it was lifted there were disruptions along the way.”

The wool, cotton and wildlife industries are also struggling, said Van der Rheede. With volatile Covid-19 travel restrictions, the local wildlife industry continued to suffer major financial losses as hunters cannot easily travel.

Agricultural events suffering

Meanwhile, Agri-Expo operations manager Breyton Milford told Food For Mzansi that he, too, supported the call for the disaster declaration to be lifted with immediate effect. Besides the wider economic impact, it is also a blow for the agricultural sector who can’t host large-scale events.

“It is holding back a lot of farmers and agribusinesses. When it comes to limitations on outdoor exhibitions, it is money that could have come into the economy, but with the legislation in place it cannot come through. Many shows are not viable with only 2 000 people, so we want it to be lifted.”

Breyton Milford, the operations manager of Agri-Expo. Photo: Ivor Price/Food For Mzansi

According to Milford, outdoor agriculture events held before Covid-19 were a chance for different stakeholders, including farmers, to meet and exchange ideas while learning about the latest technology and machinery.

“If you look at exhibitions such as the South African Cheese Festival which draws nearly 200 exhibitors and about 30 000 visitors over three days, it has a very big impact on the economy.

“For smaller [scale] farmers this is a great opportunity to showcase their produce. It is at this level that they get market access. That is how consumers get to know about them and engage [them] for business.”

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