New Year messages for 2015

Leaders in South African agriculture look back on the achievements and challenges of 2014 while anticipating the demands and opportunities of the year ahead.

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Johannes Moller – president of Agri SA

The year 2014 was declared The International Year of the Family Farm by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN. This is an indication of the importance that is attached globally to farmers and agriculture. Agri SA also participated in this celebration at our recent congress by discussing land reform policy, labour matters and economic issues pertaining to agriculture and family farms. Agriculture remains the mainstay of the rural economy, especially in areas where mining does not take place. However, it should be noted that it offers a sustainable alternative for human and economic development in those areas.

South Africa has a diverse range of consumers, from extremely poor to very wealthy. Ensuring a consistent supply of quality and affordable food remains a major challenge for agriculture and the related agribusiness sector. Whenever Agri SA discusses commercial agricultural development in the rest of Africa with delegations from other countries, this becomes one of the first questions: “How do we develop the value chains associated with agriculture?”.

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This indicates the importance of agriculture as a driver of economic growth. This value chain is, however, extremely susceptible to the negative effects of violent and destructive labour unrest. This must be addressed if economic growth has to be elevated as a precondition for enabling South Africa to address its numerous social challenges.

It is against this background that Agri SA has committed itself towards actions that will enhance broad-based SAsocial and economic development of farm workers and their families. One of these actions is a training programme aimed at enabling rural households to increase their income by exploiting alternative business opportunities available in rural communities. This could be an alternative to raising minimum wages – the latter leading to mechanisation and job losses, and constraining competitiveness.

Global trends

A socially responsible approach towards agricultural development is in line with global trends. The OECD countries, for example, view rural development as a point of departure for stimulating agricultural production which, ultimately, will result in food security.

This philosophy is partly encompassed in Agri SA’s recommendations to move land reform away from an ideological approach towards that of being the responsibility of sector role players, based on sound business principles. Agri SA wishes all Farmer’s Weekly readers a prosperous 2015. May farmers enjoy a productive year and in so doing, ensure adequate availability of high-quality food on our markets and sustain food security for our fellow countrymen.

Mike Mlengana – Afasa president
During its first three-year term, the Afasa National Executive Council spent most of its energy endeavouring to ensure that the national agricultural policies and programmes increase the participation of previously disadvantaged individuals in agriculture, while fostering the growth of the sector. Afasa showed muscle in influencing policy through lobbying, advocacy and stakeholder engagement.

For Afasa, answers to the following questions would give an indication of where we are with regard to establishing competent and successful commercial black farmers in South Africa.

How many black farmers have access to land with tenure security?
What is the size, production performance, and profitability of the farms owned by black farmers?
How many have been trained and mentored, and can confidently farm on a commercial basis successfully, and how do we measure that?
What has been the impact of all our interventions on the agricultural land productivity of South Africa and its contribution to food security?
Have all these strengthened investor confidence in the sector and provided assurance that South Africa will continue to meet the growing demand for food on a sustainable basis for our natural resources, the farmer and the economy as a whole?

The highlight of the past term is Afasa’s active SA engagement in the development of new policies on land reform. The organisation has called for land reform that assures tenure security and adequate support for farmers. This should enable them to steadily grow to optimally utilising the land. Most of Afasa’s opinions have been favourably considered in the new land reform policies.

Afasa has rejected unreasonable proposals such as the strengthening of the relative rights of the people working the land, which implies that land owners should progressively lose a portion of their business/land to their employees. We are also working on alternative suggestions to ensure the viability of the sector.

Unfortunately, given the history of organised agriculture in the first 17 years of democracy, as well as the fact that Afasa is a new entrant in that space, securing funding has been a huge challenge. However, in terms of organisational development, Afasa has made great strides over the past year. The association is well recognised across all spheres of government and has made valuable input in many forums, largely from the efforts of the leadership and the good relations with the public and media.

We look forward to kickstarting this year and continuing where we left off in 2014. I would also like to thank everyone who has walked this road with us and given us much-needed support – our members, stakeholders and partners. I wish all farmers a prosperous New Year.

Senzeni Zokwana – minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries

The year 2014 has been up and down for our sector. Indeed, agriculture can never be described as a predictable sector! Since assuming my position, I have met with many agricultural organisations and have been privileged to meet an equal number of enthusiastic, hard-working farmers and producers whose passion remains the lifeblood of food security in our country.

I have been left humbled by stories of perseverance in adversity, and sheer dedication to provide food to our countrymen. From losing lives to wildlife fires and ongoing threats to our export markets, this year has been marked by growth in some sectors and sad declines in others. I am pleased with how far we have come.

We have forged partnerships with international players. The Agricultural Research Council continues to do sterling work. During early December, we launched a drought-resistant seed to improve the lives of smallholder producers – a great way to end the year. 

The National Agricultural Marketing Council continues to find markets for our producers. We have seen a rise in civilian interest and youth in agriculture. We’ve seen gogos, the young and those in the public eye endorse agriculture as a means to make ends meet. Onderstepoort Biological Products has recommitted itself to providing an efficient service to livestock producers. The Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) has introduced technology to shift from a manual process to smarter mobile technology. This move will continue to place the PPECB on top of its league.

I encourage crop farmers to take advantage of the rains the country received and to plant timeously. The president has challenged us to create a million jobs. We will have to unlock many blockages that currently prevent us from achieving the optimum results we wish to see. I am aware that the rising costs of running sustainable production businesses such as electricity, fuel and labour have led to many hardships. Government is working towards creating a conducive environment for businesses to thrive so we can reach our targets.

In November, deputy-president Cyril Ramaphosa held a constructive meeting in Cape Town and met various organisations in the sector – a moratorium on farm evictions was set. I encourage all of us to form good relationships with employees. I hope we will practise ubuntu. 

Let’s prepare for a prosperous year.