ANC president Jacob Zuma’s address at the Grain SA Congress was big news, but it wasn’t the only topic on the Congress’s agenda. Annelie Coleman reports on the gathering and its plans for the future.
Issue date: 28 March 2008

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ANC president Jacob Zuma’s address at the Grain SA Congress was big news, but it wasn’t the only topic on the Congress’s agenda. Annelie Coleman reports on the gathering and its plans for the future.

ANC president Jacob Zuma, unashamedly courted South Africa’s commercial grain and oilseed producers at the recent Grain SA Congress. Zuma explained that government has a constitutional mandate to ensure that every citizen has access to food. “We must ensure food security and an adequate safety net and it’s in this regard that South African commercial farmers play a decisive role,” said Zuma. “They aren’t only important for food stability in South Africa, but for food stability in the SADC region as a whole.” He said that the development of commercial agriculture, however, had continued to be characterised by labour practices that led to job losses and in a climate of uncertainty of tenure for workers and emerging farmers. The ANC had to address the imbalances of the past through transformation programmes. Zuma confirmed that the redistribution target of “at least 30% of land before 2014” is still in place. But he allayed fears by saying that the willing buyer, willing seller policy would be maintained. “We must talk, and I’m convinced that the delays in the implementation of the land reform policy could have created the impression that the policy has failed. That is not the case and the policy should be moved forward,” he said. Biofuel was also an item on Zuma’s agenda. He cautioned that food security could never be compromised, but that the development of a sound biofuel industry could play a vital role in the development of the so-called second economy in the rural areas. The strategy described in December last year makes it clear that maize would not be used for biofuel production during the first phase of the development of a biofuel industry. Zuma was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the delegates when he addressed the issue of crime and violence in farming communities. “We are concerned about people who are abused,” he said. “Attacks on farmers and workers should not be tolerated. At one stage it looked as if the farming community had been singled out for violent crime and this can’t be allowed to continue,” he said. He issued an open invitation to farmers. “Don’t hesitate to call on me for help, at least on a political level for the moment,” he said. “The door is open and you and I have begun a process of engagement. I believe in a thorough process of debate and discussion. If we don’t talk all kinds of assumptions and suspicions are created. Whatever we do, South Africa must be put first.”
‘Sector Plan needs to be implemented without delay’

Delegates at the 10th annual Grain SA congress unanimously agreed that pressure must be put on authorities to have the Agricultural Sector Plan implemented without delay. They agreed that the ultimate survival of agriculture depended on the timeous rollout of the plan. Very little has happened since the plan was signed in 2001. Grain SA chairperson, Neels Ferreira, said the plan makes provision for a profitable, sustainable agricultural sector that would ensure food security for the country. “It’s the responsibility of the Presidential Agricultural Working Group, consisting of strategic roleplayers, to fulfil the mandate described in the document, with the ultimate aim of ensuring strategic and sustainable growth in agriculture,” said Ferriera. “We have had regular meetings with the president since 2001, but sadly, nothing has happened yet,” he added. Commercial farmers are committed to contributing to the survival of agriculture, but find it increasingly difficult to continue in the current circumstances. “Farmers want to be part of the solution but we have taken a decision to aggressively – not negatively – stand up for our rights as citizens of this country,” he said. he vice-chairperson of Grain SA, Louw Steytler, agreed. “I thank the Heavenly Father for the Constitution and the Constitutional Court. It is our protection against political threats and populist politicians. It has proven itself as a protector of rights.”
Decision to concentrate on non-staple food grains for biofuels

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South African grain producers still have faith that a viable biofuels industry can be developed. P roducers have taken a decision to focus on non-staple food grains such as grain sorghum and triticale as options for biofuel production, but other grain won’t be excluded, said Grain SA’s Chairperson Neels Ferreira. “We’re committed to food security and won’t take any decision that can be perceived as a threat to food security,” he said. “As a matter of fact, economic forces will determine which feedstocks will be used. We will continue to lobby government to include all grains in the biofuels strategy.” T he University of the Free State’s Professor Herman van Schalkwyk supports Grain SA’s standpoint regarding a viable biofuels industry. He said the industry would create an exciting window of opportunity for the African continent. The first world can’t supply the energy demand, and this creates an ideal opportunity to create wealth on the African continent. he Grain SA Maize Working Group is set to revisit the biofuels policy and analyse it in-depth.
Zuma ruffles the maize capital

The news that Jacob Zuma was to address Grain SA’s congress spread like wildfire through the peaceful Free State town of Bothaville, with people openly debating whether or not he would show up. he second day of the congress saw unusually strict security measures at the Fanie Ferreira Hall, including metal detectors. The arrival of a big, black car and a sudden flurry of activity among Grain SA’s management meant one thing. ”Zuma is here – the eagle has landed,” whispered one delegate. At first, Zuma was unwilling to take questions from the congressional delegates, but he soon warmed up to his audience enough to call for questions. he reason Zuma thawed a little towards the assembled grain farmers might have had something to do with the deafening applause he received, when he mentioned that it seemed as if the farming community had been singled out for particularly violent crime and that such attacks should not be tolerated. One of the questions directed at him was in Afrikaans and he politely told the assembly that he didn’t understand Afrikaans. The farmer then switched over to isiZulu, to the great delight of the ANC president. While critics point out that Zuma might simply be playing to his audience, somehow he managed to make an impression on the traditionally sceptical farmers, who gave him a standing ovation and a hearty cheer as he departed.