Are farmers losing heart?

There was a palpable buzz during the course of last year’s Agri SA congress, something that I felt was missing at this year’s event.

This was strange because I felt that Johannes Möller and his team put some very good plans on the table, with their socioeconomic action plan and land redistribution financing model. As usual, agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana gave a positive speech about cooperation and open doors, and even the chief land claims commissioner’s ‘discussion’ wasn’t too demoralising, once we were able to process her comparison of apartheid to Auschwitz.

The department of land reform’s item had the potential to be the congress’s proverbial wet blanket, but it wasn’t too discouraging. Yes, deputy minister Mcebisi Skwatsha did make it sound as if the 50:50 proposal was going to happen in some shape or form, but he also said his department wanted to sign a memorandum of understanding with Agri SA which would look at the organisation’s land reform proposal.

He also said that land reform should not affect food security or distort land markets and business confidence.

Why then, if the overall message was positive, were delegates not more upbeat? Perhaps it’s because they had ‘heard it all before’ and, at grass roots level at least, nothing seems to have changed. Farmers still don’t know if and when they’ll face a land claim or be forced to give away 50% of their land and operation. No level of cooperation seems to satisfy government.

Look at Charl Senekal, who has invested millions of rands in transformation and development, and is facing a land claim.

Measured against this, ordinary farmers may well be wondering what they can do to ensure peace of mind and freedom from political meddling. Well, they can’t do anything – at least not until the sector reflects the demographic profile of the country, according to the chief land claims commissioner.

But you and I both know that it is not about who owns the land; it’s about inequality and economic transformation. Until we find a way to lift our unemployed out of poverty, South Africa will never be free of strife. And this is why Agri SA is working not only on solutions to land reform but on a general socioeconomic strategy.

The organisation has in the past been accused of too much talking and too little action. Yes, it has taken them a year to come up with a plan on how to implement its land reform and rural development proposal, but don’t underestimate the work it has done at government level. The ball is now in the court of those very Agri SA members who sometimes grumble about the organisation’s slow pace.

Let’s hope ‘the buzz’ of 2014 is back next year, with concrete examples of how this year’s plans are bearing fruit.