At the recent SA Pork Producers’ symposium in Gordon’s Bay, Hans van der Merwe, the executive director of Agri SA, said that South Africa had become a net importer of food for the first time in his life, due to a declining capacity to produce. “But the country can’t afford to be totally dependent on food imports,” Van der Merwe warned.
He attributed the loss of productive capacity to a negative mood in agriculture, remarks made by politicians and a high level of politicisation of the industry. Van der Merwe criticised the government’s neglect of capacity building saying, “The transfer of land is progressing faster than the transfer of skills required to farm the land.” He said South Africa has lost a third of its commercial producers in the last 10 years as well as a third of the labour force in the industry.
He said there’s a discrepancy between government’s expectation of what agriculture should deliver and the impediments and unintended consequences of the policies and legislation it implements. On the one hand, government expects agriculture to provide accelerated and shared growth, a better life for all, food security, a safe and stable rural environment and net foreign exchange earnings.
On the other, it impedes farmers’ ability to reach those objectives because it creates an unfriendly policy environment through such measures as the Extension of Tenure Security Act (ESTA), changes to mineral rights and inadequate water reform. “The present minister is totally preoccupied with the social function of agriculture to the detriment of its commercial function,” Van der Merwe said. “Agriculture will only be able to fulfil its social function if it’s provided for commercially. Crippled commercial farmers can’t help build the economy.” – Sonja Burger