Neighbour states poach our farmers

A productivity drought looms for South Africa’s agricultural sector as more commercial farmers leave to farm in neighbouring countries, which go out of their way to accommodate them. While government is drafting legislation and policies to get commercial

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The agricultural sector has taken note of the growing number of South Africans emigrating to farm in foreign countries, with the potential threat to our food security this entails. Some see this as the result of a long-term agribusiness downturn due to policy uncertainties.

During a round table discussion hosted by the Centre for Development and Enterprise towards the end of last year, many participants spoke ofx the difficulties of communicating with national or regional land claims officials, and the lack of trust that has hampered progress with the restitution process.

According to one participant, the Department of Land Affairs is simply ignoring comprehensive plans drawn up by various agricultural industries, especially long-term industries such as timber. The consequences would make themselves felt in the long run, he warned. Greener on the other side? Former agriculture minister and DA member of parliament Dr Kraai van Niekerk agrees. “Many of our farmers have already left SA to farm in countries such as Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania and many more may leave if our government continues its drive to replace commercial farmers with subsistence farmers as part of its land reform programme,” he said.

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Dr Van Niekerk commented that it’s remarkable how well South African farmers are being received in these countries. “Most of them farm in partnership with the locals, on the same business models so many have tried and failed to implement here.” H e said most farmers in South Africa want the land reform programme to work, but that government is making a hash of it and, in the process, driving good farmers out of the country.

The best example of this is the controversial Expropriation Bill drafted by the Department of Public Works. “Government is desperately trying to keep its voters happy by arrogantly trying to push through a piece of legislation that would never hold up in the Constitutional Court,” he said.

Dries Bruwer of the Bruboer Group, which has been instrumental in establishing and running farming projects all over Africa, confirmed that South Africa’s commercial farmers are well-received in other African countries. “Many leaders have approached us and asked us to bring commercial farmers to their countries, because they’re recognised as among the world’s best,” said Bruwer. “These governments have all learned the lesson the African government seems unwilling to learn – that land reform doesn’t work if it’s based on politics and not a solid food security plan.“

Many people have said farmers leaving to farm overseas are unpatriotic, but Bruwer made the point that a true farmer is an entrepreneur at heart. “If a farmer finds himself in a situation where he’s no longer able to conduct his business in a competitive manner, he’ll seek some other place where his business will be allowed to develop and grow.”

He said the number of African farmers reaching this stage is increasing. Counting the damage While nobody has been able to tell how many farmers have left the country to date, local farmers’ unions representing commercial farmers agree that the trend is cause for concern. “From figures released by Statistics SA, we know we’ve lost about 15 000 farmers between 1996 and 2004,” said Agri president Lourie Bosman.

He noted that not all of these farmers have left the country to farm elsewhere, but said one can only wonder what role the country’s counterproductive commercial agriculture policies have played. Bxmxxtosman said that agricultural statistics for countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi indicate agricultural production there has increased over the last couple of years.

“Those countries now have commercial farmers from South Africa and Zimbabwe producing food for their people while Zimbabwe’s people are starving and South Africa’s land and agriculture department refuses learn,” he said.

A new regime in Zimbabwe could lure South African farmers there, as it boasts agricultural potential that far outshines of South Africa. At time of going to print, Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe’s so-called war veterans were taking out frustrations over unfavourable election results on country’s few remaining white farmers. But opposition party MDC economist Eddie Cross said this was nothing more than a desperate last attempt by “yesterday’s man” sabotage political change voted for by people.

“He [Mugabe] is like a wounded buffalo making his last charge,” Cross said. Cross was confident the MDC had won election, as well as presidential vote. The party already had plans in place to restore country’s ruined economy and rebuild its agricultural sector. If these plans are implemented, Cross said, South Africa can expect some of its farmers to leave country farm in Zimbabwe.

Cause for concern TAU SA general manager Bennie van Zyl said the welcome South African farmers receive in other countries is a major cause for concern for his union. “It’s sad when farmers leave their farms for wrong reasons. The free market should determine who produces food and fibre for a nation, politics. While it’s good for an individual farmer find a place where he can farm productively and competitively, we are concerned about every farm in South Africa that goes out of production when farmers sell state farm elsewhere,” he said.

Many farmers have said feel have no future in South Africa. A young tomato farmer from Makopane (Potgietersrus) is in process of immigrating Australia with his wife and children. His farm is under claim for restitution and if and when commission buys his land, he’ll pay off his farm debt and use remainder make a fresh start in a country.

 He sees no future for his children in South Africa. He is a farmer, he says and can’t a living and provide for his family in a country where farmers are clearly not welcome. “Government’s approach agriculture and food production is exactly same as it was with electricity supply,” said Dr Van Niekerk. “They’ll continue take productive land out of production and give it to people without the means or skills farm productively until food shortages start impacting on entire nation.

Only then will they wake up.” Until then, exodus continues, with neighbouring politicians knocking on doors of organisations such as Bruboer and farmers’ unions every day looking for commercial farmers from South Africa feed their people..