The newly appointed executive director of Agri SA, Christo van der Rheede, has pleaded with government to keep their hands off farming. During a frank discussion at Agri SA’s virtual congress currently underway, he acknowledged government’s many failures in land reform initiatives.
Duncan Masiwa reports that Van der Rheede made these remarks during the reporting session of Agri SA’s centre of excellence for labour and development. The discussion was led by Clayton Swart, communications manager at the South African Table Grape Industry.
“We have seen the massive disasters on many of these farms that have been taken over by government and many workers have lost their jobs and income as a result of that,” said Van der Rheede.
“Government’s big job is to create conducive circumstances to liberalise the economy and ensure that we have a free market system, but at the same time supports small-scale farmers, businesses and commercial farmers.”
Government’s stance on water ‘problematic’
In his report, Janse Rabie, environmental lawyer and head of Agri SA’s natural resources centre of excellence, spoke candidly about contentious water rights issues, as well as the transfer thereof in South Africa.
Rabie described government’s stance on the transfer of water use entitlements as “problematic for the agricultural sector in that courts have given a view on something that is half baked.
From a policy point of view, Agri SA stands squarely behind the correct increment implementation and interpretation of the national water act. Agri SA has made the decision to take the matter in appeal and will support the litigating parties in taking the matter to court.”
Has government lost appetite for section 25?
Meanwhile Noluthando Ngcakani reports that Annelize Crosby, head of land affairs at Agri SA, believes government has grown listless in its hot pursuit to amend section 25 of the Constitution.
In her 15-year experience with the parliamentary portfolio committee on land reform, Crosby said it has been years of regurgitated issues that popped up in the processes of amending the controversial section on expropriation without compensation.
“The fact that we haven’t yet seen the Constitution changed is positive, but it might be that government has lost its appetite.” – ANNELIZE CROSBY, AGRI SA
The issue of land has become politicised to the point where it hinders the progression of transformation, said Crosby. Pressing matters have since veered its head, including the budget for land reform, widespread corruption and the effective implementation of government’s agricultural programs.
“There are many small victories, but it is an ongoing battle. This process has been very protracted; it could have been finalised by now,” said Crosby. “The fact that we haven’t yet seen the Constitution changed is positive, but it might be that government has lost its appetite to make radical changes to section 25.”
‘Government now realises agriculture’s worth’
In his report, Kobus Visser, director: rural safety and provincial affairs at Agri SA, said farm attacks continue to cast a dark shadow over food security in Mzansi.
While police and organised agriculture’s relations have improved, a more effective strategy was needed to combat attacks on farmers and their workers, stock theft and the destruction of farm infrastructure.
Agriculture, he said, is crucial in jump-starting the battered economy. “The sector has proven that even through the worst circumstances it could function. Government has broken their silence in more recent farm attacks as they now realise the worth of agriculture.”
Visser added that more collaborative efforts should be made in tackling the scourge.
“Only time will tell whether government will launch concrete strategies to combat farm attacks and farm crime in rural communities. Through our provincial structures, we are prepared to work with both the police and government to create safer environments for farmers and workers to conduct their operations without the lingering threat of attacks and crime.”
Tackle trade to boost export crops
Furthermore, Sinesipho Tom reports that Omri van Zyl, the CEO of Agri SA Enterprises, described farmer liquidity with the Land Bank’s downgraded status and trade issues as top challenges faced by the sector.
However, tackling issues of trade could bolster export crops. “For us, the strategy would be to have a very well-coordinated functioning trade strategy that we cannot execute without new market development.
“Remember, we compete internationally. We are the biggest producers of macadamia, nuts, and avocados, you name it, so we can actually benchmark to the best of the world.”
“We have seen massive disasters on many of the farms that have been taken over by government.” – Christo van der Rheede
Andrea Campher, disaster risk manager at Agri SA, said her unit continues to identify risks in the agricultural sector and the greater agricultural value chain.
“If we look at the covid-19 pandemic, its negative impact on our economy and how much of a risk it brought to the sector, Agri SA played a commendable role to protect the sector and keep it afloat.
“Additionally, the disaster risk management unit also aims to implement strategies to minimise risks in the sector.”