Home Food for Thought Transformation can futureproof agriculture

Transformation can futureproof agriculture

History has clearly demonstrated that inclusivity, not exclusion, is the only tool to address inequality and drive agricultural transformation

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Hamlet Hlomendlini, senior agricultural economist at Absa. Photo: Supplied

A wider representation of blacks (particularly women and young people) in commercial farming linked with the right production conditions and incentives has the potential to directly impact on agricultural productivity and household food security, argues Hamlet Hlomendlini senior agricultural economist at Absa.

Over the last two decades, South Africa’s agricultural production has improved significantly. Against this backdrop, South Africa is one of the major exporters of agricultural products to most lucrative markets around the word.

The propensity of the sector to grow and attract foreign earnings is one of many reasons that is forcing the South African government in recent years to show a strong interest in and prioritise agriculture as an important sector. As such the sector has featured prominently in both the government’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) and the Budget Speech in the past five years. 

Unfortunately, despite the output growth and the many praises directed to the sector by government through speeches, many previously disadvantaged groups who wish to venture into commercial farming still face structural barriers to entry. This is especially true for women and young people.

‘History has clearly demonstrated that inclusivity, not exclusion, is the only tool to address inequality and drive agricultural transformation.’

As long as such barriers remain unaddressed, many will remain excluded from commercial farming activities. Although the transformation agenda in the sector has been on the cards and has been the most topical issue for more than two decades, the sector is still seen in the context of the economic history of the country. This saw heavy investment in white commercial agriculture – a key constituency of the apartheid state – through most of the twentieth century. 

Given many decades of systematic exclusion of black people from the mainstream economy, it is important that South Africa boldly address the economic inequalities that continue to persist twenty-seven years after the fall of the apartheid state. 

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But that said, it is fundamentally important that the government of the day use the transformation exercise as tool to promote inclusivity, not exclusion, which the apartheid state promoted for many decades. If the current government follows the same precedent engineered by the former state government, unfortunately South Africa will not be able to have achieve sustainable success in transformation. 

Public, private collab for transformation

A simple google search on “inclusivity meaning” reveals that the process relates to “the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised…”. In the context of South Africa this includes previously disadvantaged groups including women and young people as mentioned earlier. 

History has clearly demonstrated that inclusivity, not exclusion, is the only tool to address inequality and drive agricultural transformation. A pragmatic inclusivity approach with an investor mind-set is critical to the success of the transformation process in South Africa.

One of the ways to achieve success in this regard is for the public and private-sector stakeholders to coordinate and come up with the most effective ways to increase transformation efforts in the sector. This must include efforts to empower black farmers to grow high-value crops on irrigated lands and accelerate investment in irrigation.    

As the most dominant food producer in the African continent, South Africa has grown further to become a significant player in global food production. But faced with challenges such as ageing commercial farmers and locked in an ongoing battle with destructive climate-related conditions such as droughts and floods and plagues, the current crop of farmers are facing odds stacked against them. 

To address this, the South African Government should do more than just mention the inroads made by the sector in speeches and take bold and pragmatic steps towards supporting black farmers with all the resources necessary to achieve success. They also should able to supply the country and other export markets. 

A wider representation of blacks (particularly women and young people) in commercial farming linked with the right production conditions and incentives has the potential to directly impact on agricultural productivity and household food security, while helping to create the much needed jobs in the country, especially for young people. 

Also read: Uptick in agri confidence good news for consumers

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Hamlet Hlomendlini
Hamlet Hlomendlini
Hamlet Hlomendlini is an agricultural economist and columnist. He is a speaker and prominent voice on matters relating to the agricultural economy in South Africa. He currently serves as a Senior Agricultural Economist Specialist at Absa Agribusiness.
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