Free State Agriculture President Francois Wilken. Photo: Conrad Bornman
Free State Agriculture President Francois Wilken. Photo: Conrad Bornman

Free State Agriculture has joined a growing chorus of leading agricultural role-players who have warned against the “oversimplified” notion that just 20% of South Africa’s farmers are producing 80% of the country’s food.

FSA President Francois Wilken describes it as “irresponsible and dangerous”, because it also creates the impression that the country can do with only 20% of its farmers. It is also implied that the remaining 80% of farmers are only producing 20% of the nation’s food.

Wilken says, “We need to be alert of the misuse of the media, emotion and personal attacks to achieve short-term goals. Every producer has to take responsibility for himself by getting involved, letting his voice be heard and not just sit with a wish-list, hoping that someone will come by and make it true.”

The Free State is the leading maize producing province in the country. Photo: Brand SA

Agriculture in the Free State is considered an integrated partnership between everyone involved in the agricultural value chain, says Wilken. This includes communal, emerging, commercial and so-called mega farmers, many of whom are members of organized agriculture. Agri-businesses and industries, input suppliers, processors and financial institutions are all cardinal role players in the agricultural sector.

He says, “For example, seeing a few large cattle feedlots as the meat suppliers of the country is oversimplified. The cattle supplied to them are first fed and provided by a wide spectrum of producers, regardless of the size of the farm.”

Wilken also believes that sacrificing certain parts of the value chain, and disguising the inability of government, corruption and ideological opportunism are dangerous and unfair.

He emphasises that agricultural production is much more complex than just the production of staple food. “Take the wool industry as a further example. It is a multi-billion rand export industry where the wool is sometimes produced in some of the most difficult parts of our country by ordinary and smaller farmers.” Therefore, there are many other industries that play a role in generating much-needed foreign currency.

Wilken believes the so-called “small farmers” are actually the farmers who maintain the economy of small towns and provide work to the unskilled labour force.

“Free State Agriculture remains committed to serving the interests of all its members and agriculture in general, and to ensuring that every producer has a fair and equitable opportunity to live out his passion.”

Wilken urged farmers to become involved in established structures to participate and determine their own future. His statement follows the earlier announcement by VKB, a leading agricultural enterprise, that its R1 million drought-relief donation will be administered by FSA.

Tons of feed and maize will be distributed to farms in need, and FSA has started identifying the farmers who are in desperate need of drought-relief.

VKB says producers or districts that have been severely affected by the drought and consequently do not have food for their animals, are encouraged to make contact with their local agricultural associations or to contact FSA directly to qualify for a portion of this feed.