Change agents

Development projects for emerging farmers remain contentious, with some entities taking advantage.

I have visited many development projects for emerging farmers over the years and it has always been my impression that private business is putting a great deal of effort into these projects. But are these efforts enough, and is sufficient credit given to government initiatives? I recently attended a workshop in Pretoria organised by the Southern Africa Food Lab (SAFL) and the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) at the University of the Western Cape.

The two organisations presented preliminary findings of a countrywide survey on the challenges faced by small-scale farmers to gain access to the market. The researchers, on the lookout for examples of ‘best practice’, studied farmer development projects and the principles on which they were modelled. One of the findings was that where agribusinesses were involved in the development of farmers, the government or non-profit organisations (NPOs) had to foot the bills. This means that agribusinesses only focus on skills development and do not invest financially in these projects.

The question then arises: would the projects continue if the government or the NPOs withdrew financial support? In the instances where funding was stopped, the researchers reported that the projects had collapsed. We must keep in mind that, although these businesses impart skills to developing farmers, they also benefit from the arrangement.

Development as a pr exercise
Another interesting finding was the fact that the private sector sometimes becomes involved in development solely for public relations purposes. Projects undertaken by companies as part of their social responsibility programmes (as required by law), were found to be unsustainable.

I spoke to Zolile Duze, general manager of the Grain Farmer Development Association (GFADA), on this issue. GFADA is an initiative started in 1999 by the Grain Value Chain Network companies (GVCN), including production input suppliers (seed, chemicals and fertiliser), suppliers of agricultural equipment, grain traders, grain storage companies, agribusinesses and agro-processors. Each of these companies were supposed to contribute towards the running of GFADA. Now, 14 years later, many have stopped honouring this undertaking.

Duze also told me that the Maize Trust, Winter Cereal Trust and Sorghum Trust had donated more than R30 million to the development of emerging farmers. But what of the other agricultural trusts? I’m told that all trusts under the National Agricultural Marketing Council were supposed to commit 20% of their levies to transformation.

While the trusts mentioned here are supporting farmers according to GFADA norms (lime, crop insurance, mentorship and input cost subsidy), certain other trusts conduct training, and no more, as their contribution to development. If their constitutions prevent them from becoming more involved, perhaps the time has come to amend these. I would also like to appeal to all the trusts involved to re-look the 20% issue.

Transformation in the sector will only take place when we are all equally committed to achieving this objective.