Last year, the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership (EDP) launched the Future of Agriculture and the Rural Economy (FARE) initiative. Led by Phillip Dexter of the Western Cape Economic Development Forum and Andrew Boraine, CEO of the EDP, the initiative aims to identify the main challenges facing the agricultural sector in the Western Cape and find solutions to these.
The need for this initiative arose after wage strikes and labour conflict in many farming areas in the Western Cape brought the challenges facing the agriculture sector, and food production in particular, to the fore. One of the first orders of business for the FARE process was to consult with a broad range of stakeholders in the agricultural economy, including farmers, farm workers, government officials and agribusiness leaders.
The consultations took place over five months and sought to uncover the major challenges faced by stakeholders and the issues behind the ongoing conflict in the sector. The discussions resulted in the FARE Panel Report that was released at the end of October. According to its findings, there is a need to move from blame appropriation to constructive, broad-based engagement and solution development.
Some of the key issues on which all stakeholders need to reach agreement to move forward is the organisation of farm workers, the need to change the basis of paternalistic relations in agriculture, the establishment of negotiation platforms, ensuring access to basic human rights, and reaching a more equitable spread of farm ownership patterns.
According to the report, there are not many outstanding restitution cases in the Western Cape. But this could change radically if the land claims process is reopened, especially if legislation is introduced to allow the submission of claims for the restitution of land rights to Khoi and San communities. One recommendation made in this regard is that the Western Cape needs to develop its own provincial land reform strategy. Government, in co-operation with municipalities and the private sector, should then conduct a comprehensive agricultural land audit on the province.
The report further proposes that the establishment of new Farm Worker Equity Schemes be placed on hold until an investigation has been done to determine how effective these schemes are as an empowerment and transformation tool.
In addition, it says that in cases where land is to be acquired for the purposes of redistribution by means of voluntary sale agreement, and the seller demands a price which is not just or equitable, the land should be expropriated rather than bought at an inflated price.
Farm workers and dwellers
In a separate chapter on labour relations, several recommendations are made that will help better manage and prevent the eviction of farm workers from houses on farms. Where landowners need to evict farm workers for reasons such as redundancy, farmers should be encouraged to pay for, or contribute towards, the cost of alternative housing. The report also suggests investigating the introduction of income tax incentives for landowners who provide housing to workers.
It further mentions that an independent investigation be conducted in the Western Cape to assess the state of evictions since March this year. Ample consideration is given in the report to workers’ rights to freely associate. It is suggested that the industry develop a code emphasising that the independence and autonomy of worker and employer organisations should be respected and maintained.
Such a code should also protect the right of workers living on farms to receive visitors, including trade union officials. It should also stipulate that for a trade union to exercise rights of access, a lower threshold of membership, of not more than 10% of the workforce, should apply.
The report mentions the need to expand water sources to put more arable land under irrigation. This is becoming increasingly important, especially where jobs have been lost due to increased mechanisation. The report states that in many cases, stakeholders experienced unreasonable bureaucratic delays in the consideration and issue of water-use licenses. It recommends that the Department of Water Affairs needs to increase capacity to meet its responsibilities.
Commercial, smallholder and subsistence farmer support
The report recognises the important role that commercial agriculture plays in the rural economy and in ensuring sustainable food security for the country. It suggests that government should provide better assistance to help farmers access new markets. It is also suggested that support for smallholder farmers be prioritised and that an enabling environment should be established for them to participate in the market.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) should, in collaboration with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, prioritise post-settlement support for smallholder farmers, and give them the opportunity to self-assess and define their needs before resources are allocated to assist them. In terms of access to local markets, retailers are advised to commit themselves to a programme of sourcing a percentage of their produce from smallholder farmers.
In addition, the report advocates implementing measures to support subsistence farmers, especially those farmers who have the potential to graduate to smallholder farmers. – Denene Erasmus
This is a summary of the key issues highlighted in the FARE panel report on the Future of Agriculture and the Rural Economy in the Western Cape. The full report is available at http://www.wcedp.co.za/news/the-fare-report. The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.