Former World Bank managing director Mamphela Ramphele has called on South Africa to embrace the expertise of the Afrikaner farming base as part of its strategy to resolve the global food crisis.
While some farmers’ organisations are grumbling that BEE isn’t commercial farmers’ responsibility, others are enthusiastic about helping emerging farmers – but say that government needs to stop alienating white farmers. TAU SA president Paul van der Walt argues that white farmers can’t afford to become more involved in helping emerging farmers. “should reinstate all the old agricultural consultants –whether they are white or not – and pay them to train and assist emerging farmers,” he proposed. “Commercial farmers are struggling to remain economically viable and don’t have time to become involved in other people’s welfare.
Low profit margins render BEE a useless exercise and if commercial farmers are struggling to remain profitable, how will new entrants make it?” I n contrast, Neels Ferreira, chairperson of Grain SA, was optimistic about Ramphele’s statement, which indicated there’s a greater awareness of the importance of commercial farmers in making BEE work. “totally agree that government and commercial farmers need to be in a partnership to make BEE work,” he stressed. “Commercial farmers have the skill, the infrastructure and means to assist new entrants.”
He added that Grain SA had invested 25% of its budget into BEE-related projects. Commercial farmers also needed to help emerging farmers negotiate government policies to their advantage, said Ferreira. “Farming is a multifaceted skill. You can’t expect a new farmer to know everything from the start.
We need to help new entrants create an environment for themselves where they can thrive economically.” He added that farmers don’t have to take time off to help new entrants. They can simply invite new farmers to study and farmer groups. Ferreira also feels government should play a larger role in helping render farming more profitable and attractive.
“White commercial farmers are being criticised around every corner. Not surprisingly, they’re starting to feel unwelcome in South Africa. Government needs to address this sentiment to ensure food security.”
Ferreira added that government could better support the industry through more friendly policies to protect South African farmers from unfair competition and through more support in research and development. The agriculture industry also needs a new minister who was familiar with agriculture and had the interests of the industry as a whole at heart, he said. – Glenneis Erasmus