Thumbs up for ‘old regime’ support structures

Molefe Mokoene of the National African Farmers’ Union (Nafu) says learning from past successes and providing adequate support to all farmers across racial and economic lines is the only way to make a success of South African agriculture. Cornelia du Plooy reports.
Issue date 31 August 2007

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What are the main objectives of your organisation? Nafu addresses the interests of farmers. Primarily an advocacy group, Nafu’s main priority is the issue of land access, cost and sustainability. Since our formation in 1991, policies and the government have changed, and so our outlook also had to change. Black people can now own farms, so we focus on landownership and the policies governing it. Making land distribution more effective is one of our new challenges. Land reform is slow and fraught with problems, caused by a lack of support for beneficiaries and unaffordable land prices. What is the make-up of your member base and what services do you offer? Nafu has affiliates and members in all nine provinces.

Currently our member base is estimated at about 50 000, but that number doesn’t reflect the actual situation. There are people considering themselves as members without being affiliated with us. We’re currently streamlining our database so we can record the correct number and categories of our member base. Those affiliated with us benefit from our support services and advocacy programmes. We focus on services that address specific member needs, such as skills training and assistance when faced with legal hurdles. We address issues that affect everybody and make room for member input in whatever processes we’re tackling. What is your involvement in the land restitution process?

Our main concern is the number of farming businesses repossessed by financial institutions, as many farmers are unable to make a go of their businesses. We’ve engaged with these financial institutions in an attempt to agree on a more amicable way of dealing with these problems. We all understand that land reform beneficiaries aren’t failing because they don’t care or don’t have any interest in making a success of their farms, but because the infrastructure around them has failed. The infrastructure and support they’re given isn’t comparable to what white farmers were given. We believe our interventions in this area – in-depth training and so on – will bear some fruit. Several discussions with, among others, the Land Bank, will hopefully see these problems resolved. Helping farmers stay in business is an ongoing process. What is Nafu’s stance on how land reform is approached? Mentorship is only one of the tools to be used in the land reform process. The notion that land reform should depend entirely on mentorship is a fallacy. I think it’s a very paternalistic idea and that, as a country, we aren’t learning from past successes – painful as the past was, certain things were done very well.

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The support that was given to white farmers then isn’t extended to black farmers now. I’m mindful that subsidies are taboo and that we can’t afford all the luxuries we had in past, but the cooperative system, for example, could help land reform beneficiaries a great deal. Meanwhile, universities and colleges are no longer supporting farmers and equipping them with valuable information. The well-oiled machine that was the agricultural structure of the past should serve as an example and a lesson for the future. We don’t ask that land reform beneficiaries be treated differently, only that they receive the same support farmers were used to in the past. We have to recognise that only with proper support can these emerging farmers contribute to the economy. Do you align yourself with any other agricultural organisations? In organised labour a united front is the key to success. The leadership of Nafu and Agri SA felt it was imperative that agricultural organisations work together when advocating mutually beneficial issues. In fact, the sector plan for agriculture lays the foundation for such a relationship, calling for a united agricultural sector.

NSNafu and Agri SA take the relationship further in that we exchange information, attend important meetings together and regularly meet to discuss issues of common interest. This creates a climate where, if we do have differences, they can be resolved for the benefit of all involved. Although we have no formal relationship with TAU SA, we’ve had meetings and are trying to find ways to work together. What’s the connection between Nafu and the Farmer Development Trust? The Farmer Development Trust (FDT) was the product of both Nafu and Agri SA. It was designed as a tool to determine the number of developing farmers in the country and to find ways to get these farmers involved in development and training programmes. Part of the mandate was to ensure that farmers could access the market. Right now the FDT is under review. It has to be decided whether or not the additional infrastructure afforded to the FDT makes business sense and whether or not it has become a burden to Nafu and Agri SA and, most importantly, to our sponsors.

We need to decide whether the FDT will be scaled down or closed. The database they’re compiling has become redundant as is involved in a similar project, and we’re consolidating the remainder of their projects. What weaknesses in the agricultural field is Nafu addressing? The demise of cooperatives has had a negative impact on the farming sector. It presents both land restitution beneficiaries and established farmers with a weak base. Thankfully there has been resurgence in the establishment of cooperatives, despite privatisation, but this tendency needs strengthening. Cooperatives offer an invaluable support base for our members, ensuring they have access to the necessary input products at the most competitive prices.

They used to be a successful vehicle for the Land Bank in extending loans and we hope this will be the case again. In the past, cooperatives worked well. They were aimed at white farmers, unfortunately, but they worked. We should learn from those successes and support the current resurgence. How can we attempt to bridge the gap between the first and second economy? We have to realise that is a goal we’re all striving towards, but that it’s going to take time. But we have to realise that it will never happen if we don’t set specific targets. We also have to keep track of the progress made. We have no data or baseline information that will allow us to evaluate our progress. Just being able to factually measure the second economy’s contribution to the GDP would be a start.

Levelling the field will take time, but it can be done. The number of farmers that make up the second economy can be reduced substantially and economically if we agree on a specific target and make sure the efforts and successes of programmes are quantified. Contact Nafu on 086 111 4850 or visit |fw