President Cyril Ramaphosa should brace himself for heavy criticism from South Africa’s farmers if he fails to address critical issues affecting food production in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) this week.
Ramaphosa will deliver his fifth Sona on Thursday, 9 February 2023, at 19:00 in Cape Town.
While Eskom’s energy failures and the subsequent impact on food production in the country are what South Africans expect Ramaphosa to address, farmers tell Food For Mzansi the president should not forget about several other critical issues.
Multi-award-winning dairy farmer Nompe Zim said she had had enough of the government’s slow-moving process around land redistribution. Besides an end to rolling blackouts, Zim wants Ramaphosa to offer a way forward in dealing with SA’s land issue.
‘We need solutions to our problems’
“We need solutions to our problems. Since the governing party took over, they have been speaking about land redistribution. It has been more than 25 years now and we [are] not seeing something happening in that regard,” Zim said.
Small-scale farmers needed to be prioritised, she added.
“I think what we really want to hear is how land will be given to farmers, especially the small-scale farmers who are only operating on a small portion of land.”
Zim knows how difficult it is to be confined to a small piece of land. This, while a large portion of South Africa’s state-owned land goes unused.
In his first Sona delivered in 2018, Ramaphosa said the government planned to take decisive action to realise the enormous economic potential of agriculture by accelerating the land redistribution programme. The president has since conceded that it is taking too long.
‘We hope for a different Sona’
South Africa’s poultry industry, the second-largest contributor to the agriculture industry, is going through a tough time.
From rising feed costs, disease outbreaks, import penetration, rising electricity tariffs, and access to reliable supply, to exchange rate fluctuations, and access to finance and markets.
Kobedi Pilane, chairperson of the African Poultry Producers Council, said he wants Sona to outline the government’s financial commitment to support black poultry producers in distress.
“We hope this year’s Sona will at least provide confidence to our farmers to encourage them to continue producing with the assistance of the government with funding subsidies.
“Also, providing guarantees where necessary to open up opportunities for other potential investors to participate, ensuring that this sector survives the current economic crisis,” said Pilane.
Lee Hlubi, a sugarcane farmer in KwaZulu-Natal, hopes sugarcane producers are a priority for Ramaphosa. The government, she said, needs to halt the sugar tax which cost South Africa more than 16 000 jobs and R2.05bn in 2019 alone.
“The industry is already suffering through various aspects internally. Farmers urge the government to at least commit to a three-year moratorium on the sugar tax while we pursue diversification opportunities which will ensure the sustainability of our industry,” she said.
Important announcements about Eskom
Meanwhile, Nedbank senior economist Isaac Matshego is expecting a drastic announcement by Ramaphosa about the energy crisis.
“We can expect details on the electricity state of emergency to be declared, other than that I expect very few new announcements from the president,” Matshego said.
Agri Western Cape (AWC) also expects load shedding to be addressed by Ramaphosa, given the huge negative impact of load shedding on all sectors.
“All sectors are currently suffering, but if the power crisis is not addressed urgently, South Africa’s food security will be compromised,” said Jannie Strydom, chief executive officer of Agri Western Cape (AWC).
“We all need to eat, but without a reliable and sustainable power supply it is difficult for producers to produce food sustainably.”
Strydom hopes government realises the seriousness of the matter, although they do not expect a workable short-term solution. Instead, AWC would like to see the sector declared an essential sector.
“With the tremendous pressure now being placed on Eskom and government, Agri Western Cape hopes to see an action plan for a realistic and workable long-term solution on the table.”
Strydom added farm safety and the services provided by Transnet are also critical for the agricultural sector.
Expect a more vocal agri sector
Meanwhile, Agri SA said without urgent action, South Africans can expect crop failure, higher food prices and shortages of certain food products in the near future. A state of disaster alone will not avert this threat – what is required is targeted relief.
“Load shedding more than doubled between January and September 2022 compared to the same period in 2021,” the agri organisation wrote in a statement.
“As a result of this catastrophe, the agricultural sector lost more than R23 billion during the nine-month period under review. This loss could be exceeded in 2023, threatening the sustainability of the sector and the 800 000 jobs it provides.”
Although load shedding cannot be fixed overnight, Agri SA said there are critical short-term measures that can be put in place to mitigate its impact on food security.
Agri SA, therefore, calls on Ramaphosa to ensure the following measures are put in place immediately:
- Declare the agricultural sector and associated value chain an essential service;
- Partially exempt the agricultural sector from load shedding beyond stage 4;
- Allow for higher rebates on diesel and petrol used for electricity generation;
- Amend the current tariff structure to reduce the cost of electricity during peak times;
- Trade load shedding schedules using a local feasibility study (a tiered approach can be taken, using red, orange, and green to identify critical areas); and
- Rapidly expand load curtailment to all agricultural areas which qualify in terms of the user mix.
Agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo said unless these challenges are addressed, the country’s agricultural sector will not achieve the growth and job creation prospects it is capable of.
“The country can expect intensified discussions about the impact of energy shortages on agriculture, food, fibre, and beverages production.
“The agricultural sector and food producers have not always been as vocal as, for example, the mining industry about the impact on their businesses. This is likely to change this year, Sihlobo said.
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