When farmers had government’s full support, they developed a
Let Someone Else Do It attitude (LSEDI). Those days are long gone.
SA AGriculture’s competitiveness depends on many factors. Last week, we focused on government’s vitally important role, which can enhance or destroy an industry’s international competitiveness – witness the problems facing the local pineapple industry. The fact is, government won’t manage to get its act together in the next year or two. The old days I n the old days, it was easy to get government to take action. Farmers were on a first-name basis with the ministers of agriculture, who, in most cases, started their careers as secretary of a farmers’ union, working up through the organised agricultural ranks and into parliament.
They had an intimate knowledge of how organised agriculture worked and, as commercial farmers, understood producers and their problems and gave them a ready ear. Agriculture usually got what it asked for. he single integrated Department of Agriculture was run by a group of dedicated civil servants with many years’ experience, and in most cases agricultural extension officers had post-graduate qualifications. he extension services of the different cooperatives provided additional advice. Liaison between government and private sector extension services took place through the so-called coordinated extension action. he same group of people ran the marketing system. marketing boards advised the minister, who set prices.
They exported any surpluses and only allowed imports if they deemed it in the interest of farmers. With all this help, farmers developed a Let Someone Else Do It attitude (LSEDI). If they made enough noise the government would increase their prices and protect their markets. Nowadays, farmers mustn’t expect any help or sympathy from politicians. The minister of agriculture and her deputy clearly don’t consider the interests of commercial farmers important, and spend their time making outrageous statements about farmers’ alleged maltreatment of workers. While their real job is to promote the welfare of the total agricultural sector, their focus seems to be on labour affairs. In fact, it’s probably more efficient to take a problem to Dr Kraai van Niekerk (DA) and Pieter Groenewald (VF+) than to the minister. Government indifference he agriculture department has lost a lot of knowledge and skills since 1994. Although the newspapers are full of advertisements every weekend, key posts remain empty. n some cases time is spent unproductively while real problems are left unattended. For instance, despite problems with the application of Act 36 in terms of imported fertiliser, the department now plans to visit farms and inspect farmers’ poison stores. Sure, they’ll find some farmers don’t comply with the regulations set down by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but surely this is a job for the Department of Labour, not agriculture. The department’s extension service focuses completely on emerging and small-scale farmers.
Commercial farmers rely solely on consultants, and technical staff from input suppliers and a few cooperatives. n 1994 SA agriculture switched from quantitative import control to an import tariff system. At the time, government wanted to “walk in front” and actually set import tariffs at a level slightly below that needed to protect SA agriculture. C learly there’s no longer a “them” looking after farmers’ interests. Government is more interested in the wellbeing of previously disadvantaged people, their service delivery has collapsed and farmers must face international competition on their own. Do it yourself Farmers and groups of farmers must change from an LSEDI to a Do It Yourself (DIY) outlook.
Those who do manage to compete internationally, like the ostrich industry, which does its own analysis to EU standards, certifies its products and ensures traceability right through the value chain. P roducer organisations can help replace failed government services with private-sector actions. An example is Agri Inspec’s work curbing illegal imports. Individual farmers must ensure they remain up to date with new technology. Large-scale producers can use expert groups to ensure they remain technically efficient. Smaller farmers struggle to get the animal nutritionist, animal scientist, agronomist and agricultural economist to spend a whole day with them, but study groups, even the much-maligned monthly “speech, chop and dop” group, bring farmers into contact with experts in the various fields. he message is clear – if farmers want to prosper they’ll have to get a DIY attitude. Dr Koos Coetzee is an agricultural economist at the MPO. All opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect MPO policy. |fw