Aggrey Mahanjana, managing director of the National Emergent Red Meat Producers Organisation (Nerpo), has said the SA government should learn how the National Party government treated its commercial farmers, in order to increase the number of emerging farmers entering the commercial sector.
Mahanjana said giving out farms and money won’t help if emerging farmers don’t get the support they need to become more sustainable. In contrast, he said the National Party government gave farmers comprehensive support to ensure their sustainability.
“It made sure farmers had something to carry them through until they started making profits.” Mahanjana said that under the current government, farmers are given land and some money, then left to fend for themselves.
“This is not how farming works. It takes time for farms to start generating income; while they wait for that, how are they going to survive?” He also suggested that when farmers are given loans there should be grace periods for repayments.
“All stakeholders must pool their resources to make this work,” he said. Mahanjana said the government departments of agriculture and of land reform, as well as Land Bank, are working in silos. Each has its own agenda, but should instead work together and solve the problem.
Agri SA president Johannes Möller said the businesses of emerging farmers are more vulnerable than those of large commercial farmers, and that South Africa needs to work hard to ensure it supports emerging farmers. Möller said the issue of disaster funds is a good example. It takes up to a year for government to release funds to farmers. Large commercial farmers have the reserves to survive for a year after a disaster but emerging farmers don’t.
Möller said the farming process is biological and slow. “If you start a cattle farm, even with free bulls and cows, it will take about two years before you start marketing the first offspring, and seven to 10 years to break even. “The reason it takes time to solve problems is that politicians are appointed as ministers. They aren’t farmers, so they don’t understand these processes.”
Tshianeo Mathidi, of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA), said the problem is that government is chasing numbers, trying to bring in masses to farm. In the process it forgets about existing farmers who are struggling.
“Targeting existing farmers would fast track the process of graduating emerging farmers into commercial ones,” he said. “But when you’ve already bought a farm, government automatically writes you off, thinking you have money to go at it alone.” – Peter Mashala