While more business leaders are embracing the idea of mandatory vaccinations – including the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) – Mzansi’s agricultural sector remains divided on the enforcement of Covid-19 jabs.
South Africa is currently experiencing a rise in Covid-19 infections with the newly detected Omicron variant seemingly spreading like wildfire.
Good for increased trade
Fruit export agent Uzair Essack believes that vaccination is important to ensure that the sector keeps moving. He hopes that mandatory vaccinations will be implemented.
“I think mandatory vaccination in terms of trade will be excellent for us. That will ensure vaccination numbers [get closer] to the 70-80% we need. This will also boost confidence from an international perspective.”
An increased confidence, Essack says, will aid South Africa in its efforts to export more of its agricultural products to international markets.
Her further believes mandatory vaccinations will contribute to a decrease in Covid-19 cases in the country’s food and vegetable sector. “This will give overall confidence to the international markets when they are purchasing our products.”
Sector survival critical
The Agricultural Food and Allied Democratic Union says that, while it has already called on its members to vaccinate, it wants government to be clear about the way forward.
General secretary Mlamelli Pukwana says that because the agricultural sector is the heartbeat of the country’s food basket, it is important for workers and farmers to prioritise vaccination.
“As a union we have noted the current discussions and views about the mandatory vaccinations. Our point of view as the union is that we stand by the labour federation we are affiliated with – Cosatu,” Pukwana tells Food For Mzansi.
Cosatu, who is the country’s largest trade union federation, was set against mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations at first. However, it has changed its stance saying that mandatory vaccinations are better than losing livelihoods under another lockdown.
“We are still supporting voluntary vaccination for everyone, even for our members. However, we are monitoring the situation as it looks like the fourth wave is starting to disturb the lives of many people, including the agricultural sector,” he explains.
Pukwana says that they encourage and motivate their members to vaccinate as they are producing food that gets widely distributed to South Africa’s households. “We are a sector that is critical in terms of spreading the virus. We are working the land, which includes harvesting, planting and selling different produce that end up with too many people.”
Agri shows still discussing the way forward
South Africa’s agricultural show industry has been at a complete standstill for the past two years. Many mega shows and expos had to be cancelled due to the ever-changing lockdown levels.
According to Breyton Milford, operations manager of Agri-Expo, they have not taken a decision yet. “Agri-Expo is currently engaging with other large agricultural shows on a national level on the topic of mandatory vaccinations, with a key focus on looking at what is best for the industry, the sector and everyone involved,” he says.
In a previous Food For Mzansi article, Milford explained that, because agricultural shows can only take place during certain times of the year, those who are unable to take place during designated windows are forced to postpone to the following year. This, he pointed out, has a negative fiscal impact on the industry.
“I certainly think that [a vaccine passport] is good news for agricultural shows in South Africa… As we vaccinate more people, we will be able to slowly get back to a more normal life and see agricultural shows and agricultural events flourish again in South Africa.”
‘Rather look into African medicines’
Not everyone in the agricultural sector is convinced that mandatory jabs are the best course of action.
Maphate Rakoma, a poultry farmer in Limpopo, tells Food For Mzansi that she does not approve of the campaigning and that people should rather support farmers who are farming traditional medicine.
“Mandatory vaccination is not okay; we do not need western medicines such as jabs to cure Covid-19. Our traditional way of treating flu is still effective and easily accessible.
“Farmers who farm with our traditional remedies are there and ready to assist. Why are they being overlooked? If they are supported, we could see a rise in employment and growth in the sector.”
‘Not forcing my workers’
Another farmer in North West, Kobedi Pilane, says that he will not be forcing his workforce to do mandatory vaccinations.
“I am personally not encouraging my workers to vaccinate and – again – it is their personal choice. Some are vaccinated, some totally do not want to vaccinate.
“I am happy with all of them and their choices. No discrimination against those who are vaccinated or those who are unvaccinated,” he explains.
Vaccinate, for the safety of the sector
According to Saamtrek Saamwerk Northern Cape coordinator Sehularo Sehularo, there is no way that farmers will ever work in isolation: at some point a farmer and his workers will engage with other people.
“So, for the betterment of the farmers’ safety and those of their families, let’s motivate one another to vaccinate,” he says.
Sehularo points out that many farmers have passed on because of Covid-19 while they were still in the line of duty.
“Our stand point is that as farmers and farmworkers our work is out there, which include engaging with a whole lot of people and dealing with food. We are at a critical and important point in our economy and food system; we need to be safe and keep those around us safe as well.”
He says the organisation encourages its members to go out in their numbers and to get vaccinated.
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