The agricultural sector is waiting with bated breath to see whether President Cyril Ramaphosa will, during tonight’s State of the Nation address, involve commercial farmers to not only drive sustainable economic growth, but also job creation and development.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa will deliver his SONA to only 50 people in the parliament chambers. Other parliamentarians and invited guests will join virtually.
Ramaphosa is expected to detail the nation’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out plan along with economic recovery plans.
Many are also eagerly awaiting action plans to curb government corruption, and to accelerate land reform.
Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede hopes that Ramaphosa will highlight the agricultural sector’s contribution.
“President Ramaphosa will have to spell out the role of the commercial sector very clearly in his SONA,” Van der Rheede told Food For Mzansi.
“He should also highlight the factors that undermine this sector’s contribution to the economy and the country’s progress in general.”
Van der Rheede said Ramaphosa has a “ripe opportunity” to include large-scale farmers. This, to help alleviate much of the nation’s current and past economic challenges. This includes poverty, unemployment and the housing crisis.
“The ball is in the president’s court to lay a firm foundation for such a partnership – to create an environment where the commercial sector is not hampered by all kinds of constraints, but can flourish and be of service to South Africa and all its people.
“Action to restore policy and governance certainty in general, as well as a massive industrialisation effort, is urgently needed to eradicate poverty and facilitate sustainable development.”
Old SONA promises
Meanwhile AFASA president A.J. Mthembu hopes the SONA will outline a structured support system for farmers. The Covid-19 pandemic has uprooted many farmers.
“We expect the president to give us assurance that the Land Bank will be given the necessary developmental funding, so that it continues to perform its core mandate as a developmental bank,” he said.
Mthembu described the struggling Land Bank as “an agricultural bank”. It ought to fall under the wings of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, he said.
Furthermore, Mthembu is eager to get feedback on 2018’s SONA promise to commercialise more black farmers.
“Our potential is far greater than currently being realised, even though AGRICULTURE IS recording growth now.”
Agbiz chief executive Dr John Purchase shares Van der Rheede’s expectations.
“Agbiz would welcome the president acknowledging the importance and performance of the whole agri-food, agri-beverage and agri-fibre value chain. Not only as a major economic sector and employer, but also as the critical provider of food security.”
“To maintain and improve its global competitiveness, this broader value chain is dependent on a range of services and support from government.
This would range from affordable finance (through the Land Bank), uninterrupted and cost-efficient power supply (through Eskom), rail and port services (via Transnet), and various departmental regulatory authorisations.”
Purchase highlighted the importance of addressing land reform and the new Expropriation Bill in tonight’s SONA. This, he said, currently hinders broad-based and foreign investment.
This is especially in a country which is rich in resources, with many opportunities to attract foreign investors.
“To be frank, these services are sub-optimal and together with policy uncertainty around land reform are not enabling the broader sector to invest and grow to the extent that it should.
“Our potential is far greater than currently being realised, even though we are recording growth now. This is, however, off a low base and due to more favourable weather conditions over the past year.”
‘Be clear about land reform’
Purchase also told Food For Mzansi that Ramaphosa should clearly articulate how and when government will implement the necessary structural reforms as documented by the National Treasury.
This, he said, “will create the right environment for business confidence to improve, facilitate investment, ensure inclusive economic growth and result in greater employment.
“It also needs to clearly indicate its position on the proposed amendment to the Constitution and its intentions in this regard, as well as with the Expropriation Bill before Parliament.”