As the provincial and national elections are drawing closer, conversations have started on which party will woo agricultural leaders and farmers. All eyes are on political parties to hear what they would be saying on burning issues such as land and transformation.
Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo said it is commonplace for political parties to include land and agricultural policies in their election manifestos and promises.
He said the 2024 elections come when the agricultural sector faces serious challenges, thus offering an opportunity to hear whether the political leaders or various parties’ manifestos will speak to the pressing challenges of the sector.
Long list of challenges in agriculture
“The most pressing issues, according to the Agbiz/IDC agribusiness confidence index results for the fourth quarter of 2023, include intensified delays and inefficiencies at the ports, rising crime, deteriorating rail and road infrastructure, worsening municipal service delivery, rising protectionism in key export markets, increased geopolitical uncertainty and persistent episodes of load shedding.
“The slow process of launching the land reform agency adds to this long list of sector challenges. This means that the over two million hectares of state land that should have been released to black beneficiaries remain unutilised, undermining not only the sector’s growth but also its transformation and inclusivity,” Sihlobo said.
He added that some of the challenges are beyond South Africans’ control, but the majority are within control. “We believe that if these challenges that farmers raise are addressed, the sector will unlock its long-term growth potential and increase employment opportunities.”
Growth prospects need addressing
“The South African agricultural sector has done reasonably well over the past three decades, having doubled in value and volume terms. The exports reached record levels of US$12,8 billion in 2022, with employment also at the highest levels since the early 1990s, at 956 000 in the third quarter of 2023,” he said.
According to Sihlobo, the country has also improved its food security conditions, ranked 59th out of 113 countries in The Economist’s Global Food Security Index, making it the most food secure in sub-Saharan Africa and reflecting the increase in agricultural output.
“Still, the aforementioned growth-constraining factors weigh on sentiment in the sector and could undermine investment and long-run growth prospects if they are not properly addressed. For example, in the last quarter of 2023, the Agbiz/IDC Agribusiness Confidence Index deteriorated by 10 points to 40.
“This is its lowest level since the second quarter of 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic hard lockdown restrictions. The fourth quarter results of the 2023 reading of the Agribusiness Confidence Index are below the neutral 50-point mark, implying that South African agribusinesses are downbeat about business conditions in the country.”
Implementation remains crucial
Sihlobo said ahead of the elections, the sector should look not only to pronouncements of the challenges but also to implementation plans.
“Ultimately, improvements in local governance, delivery of services, maintenance of roads, and release of land for new entrant farmers are essential for the growth of South Africa’s agriculture.
“Nationally, the focus ought to remain on opening export markets, addressing logistics at ports, dealing with crop and animal disease, and embracing new technology by registering new agrochemicals and genetics, essential for boosting productivity,” he said.
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