The year ahead

Agri SA president Johannes Möller’s New Year message to farmers is one of optimism and opportunity.

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I believe 2011 will offer many opportunities. But this doesn’t mean we’ll have it easy. To be successful in agriculture, farmers must be realistic about the vicissitudes of nature and other threats in the natural and market environment.And the past year certainly had the quota of drought and fires in certain areas. Yet, despite this, it’s mostly been a good production year. The exchange rate firmed considerably, which hampered export industries, but helped keep the cost of imported inputs in check.At policy level, 2010 abounded with activity. Most farmers can rightly argue that the state should pull up its socks and improve service delivery and build infrastructure. The policy environment is seen as unfriendly.

There’s the uncertainty brought about by land reform, the spiralling costs due to administered prices, unresolved pollution issues and biased political statements on the labour dispensation on farms. And yet Agri SA has reached consensus with President Jacob Zuma to the effect that agriculture should receive more focused and coordinated attention as a government priority, with various policy discussions with ministers paving the way for constructive interaction.

No farmer can feel easy about their farming business if they focuses only on what happens within the farm boundaries.The availability and prices of inputs, the labour dispensation, financing and taxation, access to and cost of electricity and water, transport and telecommunication infrastructure and services, disease control, product standards, disaster management, security operations and market access can only be influenced through collective action.

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The successful farmer must therefore join his farmer association and commodity organisation to make his voice heard and give substance to the initiatives that will improve the viability of agriculture.For 2011, my views on the threats we face and the opportunities and strengths we should use are briefly as follows:

Threats we face
Beware of pessimism that could lead to depression – it clouds your vision and causes you to overlook opportunities. Where there’s a will there’s a way – ‘n boer maak ‘n plan! The global economy in general, and more specifically, South Africa’s traditional export markets, remain unstable. Conservatism is advisable and we’ll have to increasingly seek new markets.The deterioration of agricultural resources, due to mining and other causes of pollution, threatens sustained production and compliance with market standards. A turnaround strategy with broad community support is required.The management of disaster and emergency relief has to be improved. Too little support too late means too many farmers face ruin.

Opportunities in 2011
With its contribution to food security, job creation and export earnings, agriculture enjoys high government priority and is also of importance to every household. It offers a window of opportunity that should be used to create a more agriculture-friendly environment. As part of civil society, farmers must use the structures of organised agriculture at all government levels and within every forum to communicate their needs, cultivate understanding, and assist in finding and implementing solutions. With the right attitude and approach, doors will open and cooperation will become possible.As a leading power in Africa and with regional integration a reality, the expansion opportunity for South African farmers and agri-businesses on the continent is an attractive option. Low interest rates and a strong exchange rate make it possible for farmers to secure imported inputs and capital goods on a more favourable basis.

Strengths for the future
The quality of South Africa’s commercial farmers is well known. Why else would more than 20 African countries approach Agri SA to assist its members in becoming involved in farming activities elsewhere on the continent? 
Agri SA’s structures have established networking relationships down to grassroots level, and have earned credibility with their inputs, as well as capacity to offer solutions and to assist in the implementation thereof.

Despite competition issues, South African agriculture maintains well developed value chains for supplying inputs up to the processing and distribution stage to serve a variety of markets and consumer communities.
May 2011 bring you many blessings and much joy!

TAU SA president Ben Marais says farmers should move closer to the consumer in the New Year.
On behalf of TAU SA, I’d like to offer a message of hope and encouragement to Farmer’s Weekly readers. Farmers today face an array of challenges when it comes to feeding the nation – and these have a cumulative effect that can be extremely trying. But you’re not alone. This is the reality faced by every farmer. The challenge is how to handle this reality, and turn obstacles into opportunities.Faith in the Lord is of immeasurable importance here and it’s something we must never relinquish, so nurture and build on this faith. That way, farmers can face any hardship.
Everyone has been given talents, which must be used responsibly. Choices have to be made and goals set, requiring perseverance to attain. There can be no backsliding. Farmers must follow the instructions God gave in Genesis 1:28: ”God blessed them and said to them, be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”And in Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

The choices we make often mean we have to work outside of our belief system. But we have also received the gifts of empathy and understanding – and we can use these to make a difference. If a farmer had to face the realities and challenges of agriculture alone, they wouldn’t last long. That’s why standing together is so crucial. Then we can share knowledge and lobbying power is greatly increased. And what affects the farmer, affects the whole of South Africa.

Here I’m thinking particularly of the consumer. Producer and consumer need to move closer together. We need to do everything we can to keep the consumer informed with balanced and realistic arguments so that we can continue to produce healthy food. My little bit of negativity brings me, unfortunately, to government. It’s largely because of it that the rest of the world is gradually losing faith in South Africa. The uncertainty caused by its pronouncements will have an increasingly negative effect on investments.

It’s to be hoped that some time in the New Year government will pause and take stock of its policies and consider where it’s taking this country. Its efforts to implement these policies to date haven’t evoked trust – indeed, it has lost our trust.My wish for 2011 is that every South African farmer will continue their good work and have faith in God – therein lies our salvation. Get that right and everything else will fall into place.