Agri unity forum to provide answers

The new Agri-Sector Unity Forum will deal with, among other things, land reform problems, water issues and the training of smallholder farmers.

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This was according to Prof Mohammad Karaan, dean of Agricultural Sciences at Stellenbosch University, at the forum’s launch in Pretoria recently. He said the forum faced numerous challenges, not least farmers’ differing views on the ‘land issue’. However, these would not see the forum fail. In fact, it was part of the reason why such a forum was needed, said Karaan, adding that it was a “lovely opportunity” to “move towards consensus”.

He explained that the forum represented a compromise. Karaan said ideally farmers should affiliate at local level, then provincial and finally national, and not make distinction between commcercial or smallholder farmers. But this would take too long and there were important issues that needed to be dealt with as soon as possible – so “the second best will do for now,” said Karaan.

The biggest challenge it faces is to stay united. “The forum needs an effective leadership that will keep it united because it could fall apart quickly if not kept tight,” he said. The forum’s leaders will also have to inspire the youth, and “get the young people at the farmers’ association levels right up the system,” said Karaan.

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TAU SA president Louis Meintjes said the forum would give the sector an opportunity to start talking with the same voice. In his opinion, the biggest challenge it faced was political interference in the sector. “I don’t believe that the differences between commercial and smallholder farmers are that many and that big,” he said.

Land is one of these, he conceded. ‘‘There’s a lot of land available, but government has focused on commercial farmers’ land,’’ said Meintjes. Instead, government should be “putting those who want to farm on the land, and concentrate on how to support, train and ensure that they utilise land,” he said.

Government is always making plans, he added. “If the first one doesn’t work they make another. But as farmers we need to work on our own plans. “We have the knowledge, experience, skills and, most importantly, the will to do so,” said Meintjes.
Ntombi Msimang, the newly elected chairperson of the forum, said the launch was the beginning of a journey started by forward-looking people in the agriculture sector.

“The challenges are enormous but the will is there,” she said. Msimang is also chairperson of the National Agricultural Marketing Council and a member of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa.