SONA 2020: Agriculture leaders welcome ‘greater realism’

Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa didn't hit all the right notes, but agri experts seem fairly pleased

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Agricultural pundits responded fairly positively to pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address (SONA), welcoming many of the announcements and clarifications he provided on issues of land reform and the improving of business conditions in the country.

CEO of the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), dr John Purchase, welcomed “the greater realism” articulated in SONA 2020. “We welcome especially the emphasis on inclusive economic growth to address the key challenges that we face in South Africa,” he says.

Purchase further highlights the references made to developing social compacts between government, business, labour and communities to address these challenges, including the high unemployment rate. “We are already involved in this initiative, especially through Nedlac, but specifically also through the development of the Master Plan for the agriculture and agro-processing sector,” he adds.

Dr John Purchase, Agbiz CEO
CEO of the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), dr John Purchase.

He also welcomed the collaboration between the public and private sector to address the issues in the country. “We (Agbiz) are also involved in the Eskom situation trying to develop a framework with the so-called social partners to ensure that we have better electricity supply for the next few years, because the prognosis is not good if we look at Eskom alone,” Purchase says.

“We welcome the changed attitude toward energy generation, especially to renewable sources and especially to businesses and households who can start to generate their own electricity.”

The Agbiz CEO however differs on the question on land reform. He reaffirms that the organization does not support expropriation without compensation, which government is now trying to institute by passing a constitutional change in parliament.

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However, Purchase’s overall response was positive, adding that “Agbiz is ready to work with government to try and find solutions to the challenges”.

North West University associate Law professor Elmien Du Plesis.
North West University associate Law professor Elmien Du Plessis.

Land reform expert and North West University Law prof Elmien Du Plessis says, “the president did not really provide details on the land reform policy, but he ensured that they are doing what needs to be done”.

Du Plessis had expected Ramaphosa to give clarity on land reform policy as well as the constitutional amendment process in his 2020 SONA.

Referring to the president’s announcement that large tracts of government land will be released for agriculture this year, Du Plessis says “it is positive, but unclear, where the 700 000 hectares of state-owned land is situated, and what is meant by ‘agricultural production’. It will be interesting to see how that plays out”.

Du Plessis further comments that the president merely highlighted the content of the policy as opposed to giving a completely new direction. “This might not be all bad, as policy certainty and consistency are what is needed now,” she says.

Dr. Vuyo Mahlati, land reform panel leader & president of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa).
Dr. Vuyo Mahlati, land reform panel leader & president of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa).

She welcomed the guarantee that water licenses will now have a turnaround time of 90 days.

Dr Vuyo Mathlati, president of the African Farmers Association of South Africa, hoped that the strengthening of institutions of finance, water and electricity would take center stage. This is in light of the negative impact of load shedding on agribusinesses.

“We have seen increased interest in farming and agro-processing with black farmers demonstrating what they can achieve under tough conditions,” says dr Mahlati.

“This despite the agricultural sector going through a tough year of drought, complicated further by foot and mouth disease. This happens when farmer support institutions are also weakening with the downgrade of Landbank to junk status by Moody’s,” she adds.

Christo Van der Rheede, Deputy Executive Director of AgriSA.
Christo Van der Rheede, Deputy Executive Director of AgriSA.

AgriSA’s Executive Director Christo van der Rheede says he’s excited about the president’s remarks about the potential growth of the agricultural industry. Van der Rheede hopes these remarks will see to the inclusion of more black farmers in the industry. “There are not enough black farmers in the country!” he emphasised.

“Black farmers must be the first in line to benefit from land reform, especially when it comes to agricultural land. We can’t wait to see more black commercial farmers and black agriculturalists participating in the sector, but there is no use you make land available and that land is not suitable.”

He also stressed the importance of clarity in the terms of land expropriation without compensation. “We would like to see the detail on that, and we would like to understand who the beneficiaries will be,” he adds.

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