What is your agricultural background?
I started out as a commercial farmer running sheep and cattle. Now I focus on cattle only, and more specifically, cattle breeding, after founding my Bellary South Devon stud in 2001. I’m also involved in the South Devon Breed Society.
Are you ready to engage with and promote Agri SA’s new strategic positioning?
I’ve served as vice-president since 2014 and was on the committee that carved out the new strategy, so it’s not new to me.
There will be new processes as we roll it out, but the strategy itself has been a long time in the planning and we know what we want and need to do. An entire team is actively working on it.
Agri SA has reinvented itself; it’s undergone a brand refresh. When we began strategic deliberations, we tried to look ahead to a future Agri SA, and we wanted to say with honesty that Agri SA is the home of every farmer.
Our vision is unity about agriculture, not unity in agriculture. Unity about agriculture is a broader concept, where people don’t necessarily agree with each other, but all of society understands the importance and relevance of agriculture.
I’m excited about it. Obviously it’s new for everybody, with the new board of directors also SAhaving just been elected. But we’re very excited to give it a go and roll out our new strategy.
Are you not worried that Agri SA’s plans to serve the entire value chain will dilute your power as a lobby group for primary agriculture?
The farmer is still the central player in this ecosystem. So that’s where our focus will be. Agri SA is the home of the farmer, that’s what it stands for.
We can now focus on solutions to problems. For example, many corporates need to procure produce from emerging farmers.
How do we work together to get emerging farmers off the ground, so that these companies can procure from them and in so doing also meet their BEE scores?
At this stage that isn’t happening. So there are great opportunities in this respect.
I see the coming together of the value chain as a huge positive, and not a threat. We’re not trying to be everything to everybody.
We are not an agribusiness chamber. We are not trying to take over Agbiz. We see Agbiz as an important stakeholder, with its own role. Our role is to serve the interests of all farmers in both the commercial and emerging agricultural sectors.
We also focus on land, water, safety, labour and social welfare. That’s our job.
Do you think the relationship between organised agriculture and government has deteriorated over the last few years?
We strive to have good relationships with the ministers of the various departments and will always try to improve these. It’s also a given that we have a good relationship with the minister of agriculture.
However, we cannot always wait for government. There are many instances where we’re doing things ourselves, taking the initiative as the private sector.
I don’t believe the relationship has deteriorated, and even if it had, we would just work harder to restore it. We’ll keep on talking; we will not walk away.
There are some elephants in the room: corruption and mismanagement, among others. Fortunately, we do have the rule of law. People must be held accountable if they stray beyond the boundaries of the law. It’s a balanced approach.
We’ll hold government accountable for what it’s supposed to deliver.
We won’t necessarily agree on everything, and we will, and certainly do, point out where we believe the partnership doesn’t function well enough. Drought assistance is an example, and we’re still affected by the drought. This is one instance where the partnership is not living up to its potential.
What are your plans to increase cooperation between Agri SA, TAU SA and Afasa?
I will continue with what the Agri Sector Unity Forum (ASUF) is doing. I will also try play a unifying role, while respecting the views and positions of other organisations.
For example, Afasa has said it is not ready to function as an integrated structure with Agri SA and I respect that. There are areas where the organisations can work together, and space for collaboration. But none of us want to give up on our respective identities and agendas.
We’ve agreed that where there are issues of mutual interest or concern, we’ll muster the convening power of our organisations. We’ll all come together and engage with government in the interests of the sector as a whole.
How do you see agriculture’s role in South Africa and globally?
The agricultural sector in South Africa is vitally important. Although direct agriculture represents only slightly more than 2% of GDP, the agro-industrial complex built on agriculture is enormous.
The consensus is that it could be between 20% and 25% of the economy. So when agriculture suffers, the entire economy suffers. We saw after the drought how the agricultural sector led the way for renewed economic growth. It’s an important sector for the economy, not only for food security, but for job creation.
Agriculture is important everywhere because of the world’s population growth.
We have to feed these people.
South African producers also need to be internationally competitive. Our farmers are among the least subsidised in the world, yet we compete against heavily subsidised farmers in the US and EU for example.
What is the single greatest threat to agriculture in South Africa?
For me, it’s the uncertainty for everyone in the sector, caused mainly by the challenges to our Constitution and institutions.
In some areas, the uncertainty stems from legislation, such as the Draft Regulation of Agricultural Land Holdings Bill, which deals with land ceilings.
There is also pending legislation, which we believe may be unconstitutional, that poses a grave danger to farmers, the agricultural sector and the economy in general.
Without policy certainty, it’s difficult to convince entrepreneurs to invest in the sector. Government should be creating an enabling environment, but currently it isn’t doing so.
There are also threats to the safety of farmers, farm workers and all South Africans; to our natural resources (for example, mining versus agriculture, and fracking); and water issues.
The transformation debate, land reform, farmer development and rectifying the injustices of the past are all challenging issues.
What do you think is the greatest opportunity for farming in South Africa?
It’s what is playing out at Agri SA right now. We have commodity organisations and new corporate members all saying we can’t fiddle while Rome burns. We have to sort out the land issues, the safety issues and the natural resources.
And this provides a great opportunity for the private sector to come together and engage government.
What we need are better relationships with government, and arising from these, trust. Above all, there must be trust that each party will do what it can to deliver on our development goals.