Unions: healthy competition?

Spurred by the formation of Afasa, Nafu is at last getting its act together.

Finally, it seems as if the National African Farmers’ Union of South Africa (Nafu) is getting its house in order. Although it took the launch of another union to shake things up, Nafu made quite an impression recently at its federal council meeting in Pretoria, where its president, Motsepe Matlala, presented the union’s new business model and strategies.

One of these is to establish Nafu retail outlets in townships, offering meat products and fresh produce. This, said Matlala, would enable both the public and farmers to have easy access to markets. The lack of access to markets was a major problem for smallholder farmers, as it prevented them from becoming profitable and competitive.

This is not the first time we’ve heard about Nafu launching its own retail outlets, and we can only hope that, at last, significant progress is being made in this regard. Nafu also promised members a solution to their funding problems – by establishing an agricultural bank. Matlala did not elaborate further, except to say that Nafu had entered into an agreement with BankServ and the bank would be up and running some time this year. Fingers crossed! I wish Nafu the best of luck, as its success means success for the sector.

Two unions – one sector
There has been some criticism in the past about two unions representing the smallholder sector (read ‘emerging black farmers’) following the creation of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa). After attending the Nafu presentation, however, I found myself thinking that perhaps having two unions is not such a bad idea. After all, Agri SA and TAU SA have co-existed for many years.

I think some competition might do the sector good. That is, if the two unions concentrate on their own mandates and focus less on internecine squabbles. Both the unions have come up with good plans. They now have to make sure that they work hard to make those plans a reality. Farmers will always choose whoever they believe will represent their interests best. I think what’s important here is not having one union representing farmers, but having all unions speaking one language – and that is ‘agriculture’.

Needed: unity of purpose
I’m certain that everyone knows exactly what challenges smallholder farmers are facing. Both unions would agree that access to markets, finance and land are among the most serious of these. They might have different ideas on how to solve these issues, but both have a common goal.

Everyone wants to see farmers increasing production and being able to feed the country. The demise of one union could never be a victory to the other. The only loser will be South Africa. It’s not necessary to spell it out, as we’re all aware of the consequences of an under-performing agriculture industry. To all the unions, I say: let’s keep our eyes on the ball and focus on what’s important – producing nutritious and affordable food for all South Africans!