Worldwide, it seems that agriculture is the best option if you want an investment with good returns. So says the ever-optimistic Ernst Janovsky, head of Absa AgriBusiness.
Giving the agriculture forecast for 2012, Janovsky said the coming year is expected to be fairly vibrant for South African agriculture, owing to expected good rainfall and increased planting. In addition, global demand for food is continuing to increase in line with the ever-growing world population, which officially reached seven billion last month.
These positive trends will mean nothing, however, if South Africa does not create the optimal environment for its farmers – through a supportive and well-considered agriculture policy. At the moment, the policies in place simply do not favour commercial agriculture, the only sector that can ensure food remains available and affordable.
In fact, according to Janovsky, the lack of a sound agriculture policy is driving many farmers off the land.
He estimates that 14 000 to 15 000 will give up farming between now and 2015.
This is of concern, as South Africa’s 50 million people are currently dependent on only 40 000 commercial farmers for food. Can we seriously afford to lose more than a third of them?
What is equally worrying is that the decline in numbers isn’t caused by lack of profit from agriculture – the government is simply making it harder and harder to be in the sector.
In fact, Janovsky confirms that there are farmers who say to him that they have cash, but want to invest it elsewhere.
If we expect agriculture to create jobs, we need to develop an environment that helps them do this. For example, you can’t expect farmers to create permanent jobs if the people they employ will be entitled to a piece of their land in the long run.
If I hire a domestic servant to help me with laundry and dishes, and I’m expected to offer her a portion of my property? I’d rather buy a washing machine and a dishwasher. That’s what farmers are doing – they would rather mechanise their operations than hire manual labourers.
So please, policy makers, create an environment that will encourage investment in agriculture and attract farmers back to the land. This is what we need to make sure we can still afford to eat locally produced food, not some poor quality imports dumped on our plates from heaven knows where.