Union has a plan to fix the farming sector

Tau SA HAS RELEASED ITS BLUEPRINT FOR sustainable agriculture in SA. Likely to ruffle some feathers, the report pulls no punches in analysing the roots of the sector’s problems.

- Advertisement -

Tau SA HAS RELEASED ITS BLUEPRINT FOR sustainable agriculture in SA. Likely to ruffle some feathers, the report pulls no punches in analysing the roots of the sector’s problems. But the union hoped it would inform debate on devising a constructive turnaround strategy. Targeted and effective infrastructure spending, a major boost in research and training investment, levelling the international playing field and effective marketing are key interventions needed to rescue commercial agriculture, TAU SA believed.

The union said it welcomed the state’s vastly increased infrastructure budget (R320 billion), given the backlog that has built up in the last 11 years. “Road links remain the artery for distributing people and commodities,” the union said. But the road and rail networks need urgent attention. “The question remains whether funds budgeted for infrastructure will go on capital expenditure or for wages and salaries for a massive job creation programme that won’t necessarily make the necessary difference to our infrastructure.” Electricity provision and telephone services have also become unreliable because of poor maintenance. The union recommended low-cost loans to rural communities to incentivise wind and solar power production. Insufficient funding for research will rob SA farmers of their competitive edge, the union said. SA’s competitors spend 2,5% of GDP on research and development, compared with 0,7% locally. “This makes success particularly difficult for emerging farmers,” said TAU SA. An increase in international requirements and decrease in the quality of local training suggested the commercial sector must take the lead in ensuring production standards are maintained so that SA farmers remain competitive. “The various role-players in the food chain must join forces to ensure the right standards are reached.”

The union believed practical experience remains the greatest teacher, especially for farmworkers, who must be trained in all aspects of production. But the union warned that agriculture has increasingly become a highly specialised, financially risky enterprise. The art of farming cannot be taught by skills transfer alone. It requires a solid grasp of economics, science, and climatic factors, and a willingness to endure the hardships of a rural lifestyle.

- Advertisement -

Although TAU SA said it believed in minimal state interference in the economy, to level the playing field the union wanted tariffs imposed on products imported from countries that subsidise farmers. Tariffs must equal subsidy value. Resulting fair local producer prices would grow the agricultural economy by 8% to 10%, the union calculated. “Tax gathered in this way can be passed on to the poor to keep food affordable for them.” The union also wanted much tougher and more effective control over illegal imports, which put unnecessary pressure on farmers and cause job losses.

Effective marketing is the key to reviving agriculture. Farmers must be able to market products directly to the global economy, preferably adding value before export. Cooperative efforts are of prime importance here to achieve economies of scale and reduce costs through bulk buying and distribution. Farmers must also ensure they have access to accurate, complete and timely market intelligence. “To survive, farmers must equip themselves with the latest technology to gain immediate access to accurate information that will enable them to make the best decisions.” – Stephan Hofstätter Read more about the strategy document next week.