It’s time farmers worked together

All farmers’ associations agree on the need for a prosperous sector. What’s required is co-ordination.

On a recent trip to Costa Rica (see pg 58), I had the opportunity to spend several days with representatives of four South African agricultural unions: the National African Farmers’ Union (Nafu), TAU SA, Agri SA and the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa). At the end of this, I felt convinced that all unions have the same vision in mind: a prosperous agricultural sector. And although they might not always agree with each other on how to achieve this, there are definite signs of consensus.

Training of emerging farmers, for example, is one area where the unions shared the same sentiments. All agreed this was crucial if there was to be any hope of closing the huge gap between white commercial and black emerging farmers. During a meeting with the unions, agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson revealed that government is willing to spend generously on agriculture, as the sector has been identified by President Jacob Zuma as one that could help boost the economy and create jobs.

And proof that the president is taking agriculture seriously could be seen in the Presidential Masibambisane Project, an infrastructure development plan. One of its targets is to resuscitate three irrigation schemes: Taung in North West, Makhathini in KwaZulu-Natal and Umsimvubu in the Eastern Cape. Another involves putting 300 000ha of land, including communal land, in the Eastern Cape under production for crops, livestock and biofuels.

According to Joemat-Pettersson, the land has been secured and she has already spoken to private companies such as South African Breweries to assist by procuring locally. For SAB to do this, however, it requires approximately 170 000t of barley. To service this market would need about 50 000ha to be put under barley production. One can imagine the jobs that would be created should this happen.

From what Joemat-Pettersson was saying, it appears that not only the land but the money too is available. She claimed that her department has budgeted a whopping R1 billion for the barley project alone.

Organised agriculture
All this is good news, but let’s introduce a bit of realism. We all know that if government were to drive this project on its own, it would never happen. What’s needed are the right skills – carefully assembled and co-ordinated. And who else can provide these skills other than commercial agriculture, with its decades of experience and expertise?

Many commercial agricultural organisations are already involved in one way or another in skills development. Grain SA is a fine example with its emerging grain farmer development projects. And it appears that both TAU SA and Afasa are working on their own development plans.

Government projects such as Masibambisane need commercial farmers’ input to succeed. Isn’t it time for commercial agriculture to unite in its efforts to uplift emerging farmers? From what I saw recently, everyone has the same goal; now’s the time for a co-ordinated approach to reach that goal.