Gone are the days of hoping for government to come to the rescue. In a province hard hit by most of South African agriculture’s biggest problems – from crime to foot-and-mouth disease to dilapidated roads – this is the message from organised agriculture’s leadership to farmers who forge ahead.
Food For Mzansi spoke to Free State Agriculture (FSA) president Francois Wilken following a recent congress by the organisation, where farmer challenges were squarely in the spotlight but also the urgent need to get all hands on deck in protecting farmers’ livelihoods and food security in the country.
Tiisetso Manoko: What were the critical outcomes of the recent FSA congress and what was your overall impression?
Francois Wilken: We had a very positive congress and very good participation from the congress attendees. The main message is that everyone buys into the principle of taking responsiblity for your farm and that the solution is to start doing things for yourself. We can no longer rely on government structures.
What are the police doing wrong in the fight against crime?
It is clear, when looking at the increasing crime figures in the country and in the Free State, that the police are losing the fight against crime. This means that current strategies, including the National Crime Prevention Strategy and National Rural Safety Strategy, are not being applied properly. There are major capacity problems and lack of expertise within SAPS.
The is a breach of trust between communities and the police in terms of service delivery.
This means that a new strategy or modified action steps, that must be clearly measurable, must be developed and established by the police as a key player in order to effectively address the combating and investigations of all crimes, especially in relation to livestock theft. It was one of the core aspects that came out of the national safety summit in June.
We are also working on a strategy as Free State Agriculture to combat crime on farms and in communities.
FSA has been at loggerheads with provincial officials over infrastructure. Do you think there is investment and appetite for addressing infrastructure problems in the province?
We are currently working on submitting lists of crucial roads servicing farming communities in desperate need of repair through Agri SA to the national department of agriculture, who has a programme to address this through rural development.
The R30 road is a busy and important road linking the Goldfields to Bothaville and Klerksdorp. To date, this road remains technically closed, but the road is in actual fact in full use. The 300m gravel strecth that was built up when the road became flooded is now becoming very rough to drive on and [producing] excessive dust.
Operation pothole repair, which was launched with much fanfare, could asssit the department of public works to close potholes as promised by the end of the year, but to our dismay, crucial life-threatening road problems such as the Ficksburg-Bethlehem roads that we continously report to the department have not been addressed to date.
Load shedding is hitting hard. Is FSA driving members towards alternative energy?
Free State Agriculture has had discusssions with three wind energy companies since the beginning of the year. FSA has had over 20 enviromental impact assessment applications, for the construction of solar and battery storage farms, come over our desk, which we have referred to our local affected farmers’ associations. So, alternative energy on an industrial scale is well on the go in the Free State.
Many farmers have gone off grid and Free State Agriculture has promoted our banking sponsor packages to fund these conversions at a zero % impact on our member cash flow.
Eskom proposes price increases, putting forward the case that Eskom power has become unaffordable and is forcing more and more agricultural clients to seek other source of energy.
In the long term, [it will] push up the cost of production, and eventually food prices, which will affect every citizen in the country.
Alternative energy was not one of the main themes at our congress, but [rather] the issue of local communities taking control over their local municipal dysfunctionality to improve service delivery and getting more involved in the functioning of the rural towns serving the agricultural sector.
What is your core message to farmers in the Free State?
We need to take up responsibility and not become part of the failed state. Communities must take responsibiliuty and find solutions for the challenges out there, whilst holding the government accountable for their mandate as detertmined by the Constitution.
Participation and involvement in organised structures that are already addressing the challenges is extremely essential.
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