All eyes will be on President Cyril Ramaphosa when he delivers his State of the Nation Address tonight (Thursday, 10 February 2022) amid an ailing economy. While the agricultural sector is trying to keep ahead of challenge after challenge, experts say Ramaphosa could start off with feedback on last year’s promises.
According to political analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela, the distribution of land is among the political, economic and social matters on which the president needs to update South Africans when he outlines government’s past year and plan of action for the next.
“The collapse of the attempts to amend Section 25 of the Constitution [to allow land expropriation without compensation] should not mean land reform should stall.
“The president will do well to provide a report of how far his government has gone on land reform and transformation in the sector and to further indicate his action plans for the next three years.”
The Land Bank is another hot potato. While it is uncertain whether Ramaphosa will announce another payout to Mzansi’s debt-ridden agricultural development bank, Mkhabela says he should “indicate how government will turn around the Land Bank so that it can meet its statutory mandate”.
On the upside, Mkhabela says Ramaphosa’s fourth SONA should acknowledge the contribution made by the agricultural sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“South Africa not only proved to be largely self-sufficient from a food security point of view, but we also experienced growth in the sector. Export earnings have been doing well.”
But for the sector to grow and to keep making a meaningful contribution to the economy of the country, government urgently needs to address logistics issues such as rail and port glitches that are keeping the sector from reaping the full benefits of global demand.
Promises made in 2021
Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede says Ramaphosa not only needs to give feedback on the promises he made last year but, more importantly, needs to assure investors that it is possible to do businesses in South Africa.
According to Van der Rheede, the agricultural sector was left uninspired and rather disheartened by SONA 2021. Now he would like to hear feedback on Ramaphosa’s assurance that his government would establish a land and agrarian reform agency, the development of smallholder farmers as a government priority and agricultural minister Thoko Didiza’s vow that an agency would be established in 2022 to drive land redistribution and post-transfer farmer support.
“He needs to touch base on security in the farming community,” Van der Rheede continues. “No farmer is able to work under threat [given] the recent spate of farm killings. Also, infrastructure: the roads are in a bad state, especially the provincial roads. That is killing the economy.”
It is furthermore important that the president outlines strides made in dealing with Eskom’s load shedding crisis. “We are [also] looking forward to hearing about the master plan in the agriculture sector and when it is going to be implemented… [and] what will be [the] measures to assist smallholder farmers.”
Basic income grant and bigger agri budget
The president of the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa, Dr Melissa van der Merwe, says the introduction of a basic income grant for the unemployed could have a positive spinoff for the agricultural sector.
“We believe that this is also good news for the agricultural industry, as providing additional support to our poorest households creates demand mainly for food products that stimulate the agricultural economy.
“Stakeholders in the agricultural industry noted a slight drop in particularly sales of fruits, vegetables and meat,” she says, adding that the sector is still picking up the pieces in the wake of two years of Covid-19 and lockdowns. “The ease in lockdown restrictions is much needed for our struggling economy as it gets everyone back to work for the wheels of the economy to start turning again.”
Meanwhile, the coordinator of the farmer organisation Saamtrek Saamwerk, Sehularo Sehularo, feels that the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development needs a bigger budget.
“The budget for agriculture must be increased so that the department could employ extension officers who are the heart of the relationship between farmers and the government.”
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