Where is farming headed?

Natural gas exploration, changing voting patterns and new technologies are some of the issues that need to be closely monitored by the agricultural sector.

John F Kennedy once said: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” – and this year was certainly one of learning and evolving.

The ANC was dealt several blows in the local elections, and four major metropolitan areas are now governed by the DA. Clearly, traditional voting patterns are shifting.

As part of the Presidential Task Team for Agriculture, Agri SA cautioned against corruption, and expressed concern over the debts and maladministration of state-owned entities.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has been a stalwart of the SA economy, and we continue to advocate support for him.

On the other hand, we are concerned about the lack of priority given to agriculture and food security by government. Agri SA views food security as one of the state’s primary responsibilities, and expects policy that enhances, not hampers, the sector.

The environment & resources
We should not let the drought blind us to other more long-term threats, such as the new shale gas prospecting licences issued for vast tracts of land in South Africa.

Natural gas production from hydrocarbon-rich shale formations is a rapidly expanding trend. In some cases, this has included drilling in regions of the country that have seen little or no mining activity. New oil and gas projects bring changes to the environmental and socio-economic landscape.

With these, have come questions about the nature of shale gas development, the potential environmental impacts, and the ability of the current regulatory structure to deal with the situation.

Africa’s resource-rich countries have tremendous opportunities to combine sustained growth with strong human development if they can successfully negotiate the value-added chain of mineral processing and manufacturing.

But in countries with limited technical and regulatory capacity, as well as weak checks and balances, resource windfalls can act as a catalyst for corruption.

To avoid this danger, the SA government has to strengthen transparency as a force for accountability. State companies and concessions must be better managed. Government also needs to spread the benefits of mineral wealth through fair taxation, efficient and equitable public spending, and other strategies.

The social and environmental impacts of natural resource exploitation should be assessed and managed so that South Africa and its people benefit rather than suffer.

The rights of SA farmers are pivotal, and we cannot erode or pollute our environment to the extent that the feasibility of farming becomes jeopardised. Agri SA will closely monitor the exploration and development of mineral resources, including shale gas, in the coming years.

Drought relief
Economists have predicted that the drought will have a severe impact on the farming community as well as on food security. To assist producers during this difficult time, Senwes initiated the Drought Disaster Fund and handed it over to Agri SA to run.

Funds and donations were received from many individuals, institutions and companies, and used to purchase fodder and subsidise its distribution among producers in need.

To date, we have received about R16 million in donations and have helped more than 12 000 commercial farmers and more than 3 000 emerging farmers. More than 35 000 bags of feed pellets have been distributed.

Parts of the Northern Cape, Free State, North West, Eastern Cape and Western Cape continue to face a crisis.

Farmers can no longer afford to buy animal feed, boreholes are drying up, and animals are dying. Farmworkers and their families are also in need of humanitarian assistance. Agri SA once again calls on the corporate sector and general public to continue with their contributions to the drought fund.

New technology
The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, driven by new technologies that will eventually affect every job in the market. This will require innovative thinking if a burgeoning population is to be employed and thereby given some level of household food security.

Many SA farmers are successfully using precision agriculture, and related technologies such as drones and ‘satellite farming’, to enhance crops and production.

Biotechnology is changing productivity, increasing varieties, providing alternatives to standard cropping, and contributing towards the evolution of agriculture. The sector, which relies heavily on international trade, will have to ensure that biotech considerations are not unjustifiably used as non-tariff barriers against our exports.

Expropriation Bill
With Parliament in recess from May to August, little legislative business was conducted during the first part of the year.

The Expropriation Bill, however, was finalised during this time. The bill was published in 2013 for public comment, after which negotiation took place within the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

At Nedlac, government, business, trade unions and community representatives negotiate on policy and legislation. Agri SA was part of the business team.

Expropriation Bill negotiations were streamlined, thanks to close cooperation between Agri SA, Agbiz and the Banking Association SA. Several appropriate changes were made to the bill during this process.

The bill was then taken to Parliament, where public hearings were conducted. From Agri SA’s perspective, a number of positive changes were made. One is that full compensation (not 80%, as previously stated) is payable by the time the expropriation entity takes ownership.

The bill now clearly states that full access to all courts for all kinds of disputes is permitted and mediation stipulations are built in to make an inexpensive solution possible where compensation disputes are involved. The bill was passed in Parliament on 26 May.

After representations by several parties (Agri SA was not amongst them), President Jacob Zuma referred the bill back for advice by the Speaker of Parliament, evidently because certain procedures had not been followed. Agri SA was widely criticised for its actions in this matter.

A senior legal opinion was obtained, and some of Agri SA’s main objections were incorporated, but the risk remains that we could end up with a considerably weaker product.

The main objection was against the methodology that could be employed when compensation is calculated.

However, it derives from the Constitution and is not inherent to the Expropriation Bill.

Agri SA in any case intends becoming involved as amicus curiae, following a recent court case where less than the market value was fixed for a farm transaction.

Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land bill

Agri SA has for many years campaigned for legislation that would ensure the effective protection of agricultural land.

The Draft Policy and Bill on the Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land eventually followed in 2013.

Although suitable protection of agricultural land was built into the bill, concern was raised about the fact that (a) the minister of agriculture was to be the custodian of all agricultural land, and (b) a clause provided for the expropriation of agricultural land for less than market value under certain circumstances.

Agri SA obtained legal opinion on the matter and commented comprehensively on the legislation. The bill was changed in 2016, resulting in the custodianship and compensation at less than market value concerns being removed. The new version of the bill is now before Nedlac.

Aquaculture bill
The Aquaculture Bill was published for public comments in March 2016. It implies that no person will be allowed to become involved in aquaculture unless he or she has been granted a licence by the minister of agriculture.

The minister would also be able to stipulate conditions before granting the licence; this could lead to an unwanted precedent with serious implications for other industries. Agri SA obtained legal advice on the bill and is leading the Nedlac business delegation responsible for negotiations on the Aquaculture Bill.

The summary above is but a bird’s eye view of matters that needed the urgent attention of the agricultural sector. In essence, it shows that Agri SA’s involvement is in line with our mission to ensure the profitability and sustainability of the sector, as well as security of ownership.

The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.

This article was adapted from Johannes Möller’s presidential address at Agri SA’s 2016 Congress, held recently in Pretoria.

Phone Agri SA on 012 643 3400 or email [email protected]. Visit www.agrisa.co.za.