South African politician and member of the portfolio committee of agriculture, land reform, and rural development, Noko Masipa, believes National Treasury and the Land Bank have little empathy for farmers. He writes that these two institutions should have a better understanding of the challenges faced by farmers with food security on the line.
Recent reports of the Land Bank’s use of force to allegedly intimidate and liquidate farmers is another instance of the Bank’s lack of empathy, unwillingness and inability to assist commercial and emerging farmers.
The decision to sell farms at less than their market value once again highlights the poor government and legislative support towards South African commercial and emerging farmers.
DALLRD mandate restrained
The department of agriculture, land reform, and rural development’s (DALLRD) mandate, among others, includes the improvement of agricultural production to stimulate economic development and food security. And while it is widely understood and accepted that the Land Bank falls under National Treasury, its dysfunctionality, like Eskom and Transnet, affects the mandate of DALLRD to effectively deliver on food production, economic development, and food security.
Growth in agriculture comes with severe financial challenges and risks such as drought, animal diseases, pests, and other climate conditions, which the state and Parliament need to acknowledge.
These are factors that are beyond farmers’ control despite their extensive planning. Therefore, these challenges in certain instances, often require urgent legislative or financial stimulus support to mitigate farmers’ exposure towards such risks to ensure the nation is food secured.
Little protection for small-scale farmers
The mandate of both the DALRRD and the Land Bank are directly linked with Section 27(1)(b) of the Constitution which states that, “everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water.” Furthermore, Section 27(2) makes it explicitly clear that “the State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights.”
Most small to medium commercial and emerging black farmers supply their produce to fresh produce municipal markets and local supermarkets. However, the financial cash flow in this category does not make commercial sense, simply because the costs of production outstrip the revenue by far.
The fact that cannot be ignored is that they are the bedrock of food security in this country, and if not supported, they are bound to be bought by conglomerates that can farm economically with technology at large scale.
Inflation and other climate factors have adversely affected many farmers’ ability to service their debt, let alone raise capital to fund their operating expenses. These farmers are doing it for the love of agriculture. The policy environment provides little protection for them other than in times of disaster. During those disasters, the government fails to live up to the expectation.
‘Safeguarding our farmers’
When the Land Bank started experiencing financial woes, most farmers who produce commodities for the export market, were able to migrate to commercial banks due to the high risk associated with losing their lucrative markets.
Small commercial and black emerging farmers supplying the domestic market, who are in their developmental status or have experienced setbacks as a result of climate and other risks, did not have the luxury of migrating their businesses elsewhere.
This is where it becomes crucial that the DALRRD engages National Treasury and the Land Bank to petition these two institutions to have a better understanding of the challenges faced by this category of farmers. Ideally, a capable functioning State with pro-active agricultural extension officers would engage extensively on the challenges faced by these farmers and the required financial and non-financial intervention.
While the Northern Cape has had good rains in recent times, as recently as 2020, it went through a terrible drought. It was then estimated that about R688 million was needed to alleviate the drought impact in the province.
Time to take control
It’s time the DALRRD takes the safeguarding of small to medium scale farmers, who operate under very difficult and harsh conditions of climate and poor infrastructure to keep the country food secured, seriously.
Most farmers had to reduce their livestock by 50%. It was also estimated that the Northern Cape requires a whopping R22 billion to build water infrastructure. These climate challenges are beyond farmers’ control. But the legislative environment is within the members of Parliament’s control.
The execution of legislation is also within government officials’ control. But if legislations aren’t enhanced to protect farmers against climate change, and the various spheres of government don’t coordinate their efforts, then the food insecurity clock is ticking.
South Africa does not lack scientists and think tank capacity to produce food. However, it lacks a coordinated state functioning authority to make things easier for farmers. Ultimately, this has led to the inability of many farmers to build a buffer to carry them during drought.
It is time that the DALRRD takes the safeguarding of small to medium-scale farmers, who operate under very difficult and harsh conditions of climate and poor infrastructure to keep the country’s food secured, seriously. The mechanisms require well-coordinated activities between the DALRRD and other institutions that are responsible for financial and non-financial support for these farmers.
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