Reinstating trust in negotiations

Over the past few weeks, Agri SA members across the country gathered at the organisation’s provincial conferences to discuss those issues most pressing to farmers.

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As has been the case for the past few years, government policy, especially that connected to land reform and transformation, was top of the agenda. Although commercial farmers and government have negotiated these issues for the past 20 years, a solution is no closer.

But, as Dan Kriek, president of Free State Agri, said in his address, the talks must continue and organised agriculture must continue doing what it says it is doing. This echoes the sentiment of Minister Senzeni Zokwana who, with years of experience negotiating on behalf of Cosatu, understands the importance of keeping communication channels open.

But I am concerned that the lack of trust that has existed for so long between commercial farmers and government has become irreversibly entrenched. In his address, Kriek quoted Prof Steven Friedman, director of the Centre of the Study of Democracy, as saying: “The longer this distrust lasts, the bigger the gap between [the parties] becomes, and this makes negotiations more difficult.”

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Commercial agriculture must continue to negotiate, because at the moment Luthuli House is seemingly dead-set on forcing its ideologies through, despite them clashing with economic reality. And with no push-back, policies will simply be fed through with no refinement in place – refinement that in the past came about through negotiations.

But talk is only as good as the action that accompanies it, and commercial agriculture is putting its money where its mouth is. Instead of just telling government that it has more practical land reform models than the ones currently in place, it is illustrating the success of existing models. When rumours of farmers mistreating their farm workers surface, commercial agriculture counters these with examples of farmers treating their employees well.

So, if commercial agriculture ticks all the boxes, why does government seemingly still have a negative perception of it? Is the state being influenced by feedback from its constituents, and if so, why is it so easily swayed? If commercial agriculture is not the bad guy, then why is the message not reaching the masses?

Considering the plethora of skills development offered by commercial agriculture to emerging farmers, I don’t believe these farmers are as negative towards commercial farmers as it would seem. Trust between farmers is improving. This is a good news story and must be brought to government’s attention. Surely this level of cooperation can give us hope for a future where commercial farmers and government can negotiate in good faith?