NEWS & ANALYSIS

Agriculture in FState needs support not further attacks – Roy Jankielsohn

Sector will require great deal of assistance if it is to continue to provide food security for growing population

Agriculture in the Free State needs support not further attacks

10 July 2019

[English follows below]

Die kos wat ons daagliks eet en die klere wat ons dra is as gevolg van die harde werk van ons boere en hulle werknemers, hetsy commersiëel, opkomend of bestaansboere.

Ons moet ons landbousektor wat onder konstante politieke druk is, wat min ondersteuning van hulle regering ontvang, wat die grootste slagoffers van beleids- en grondbesit-onsekerheid is, wat miljarde rande verloor as gevolg van misdaad, en op die voorgrond van die negatiewe impak van aardsverwarming is koester. Ten spyte van al hierdie negatiewe faktore produseer ons boere landboukommoditeite onder omstandighede wat die mees vyandig is van enige lanbousektor in die wereld. Ons boere het die landbousektor in ons land ontwikkel tot een van die mees inoverende en veerkragtige sektore van alle landbousektore in die wereld. Ons boere bly nasionale bates en behoort as sulks behandel te word.

Dit is dus kommerwekkend dat die ANC en EFF in hierdie Wetgewer die mense wat aan hulle, en al ons mense in Suid-Afrika, voedsel en die kommoditeite waarvan hulle klere gemaak is voorsien met neerhalende opmerkings teiken. Verlede week het die Voorsitter van Kommittees in die Vrystaatse Wetgewer, mnr. Mojalefu Buti, ‘n groot groep van ons boere beledig deur te sê dat “wit Afrikaner boere rassiste is”. Deur haar wyering om op die DA se versoek sulke stellings as onparlementêr te verklaar, is dit deur die Speaker van die Wetgewer bekragtig. Ons beskou sulke stellings as bydraend tot plaasaanvalle en grens aan aanhitsing tot volksmoord.

Terwyl ons boere lang ure werk, wat soms voor dagbreek begin en lank na skemer eindig, daag mnr. Buti gewoonlik laat op vir vergaderings wat soms eers nege uur in die oggend begin. Die politici in hierdie Wetgewer moet onthou dat boere ook as belastingbetalers bydra tot hulle salarisse.

Dit is geen wonder dat ‘jan alleman’ baie van ons politici as viruses beskou, wat sonder positiewe en konstruktiewe bydraes tot ons samelewing, op ons mense teer. Dan het hulle nog die vermetelheid om dieselfde mense onder die beskerming van hierdie Wetgewer te beledig.

This sector will require a great deal of support, if it is to continue to provide food security for a growing urban population and create more employment in our desperate rural areas. While this sector only contributes 4.1% towards the provincial economy it provides 19.2% of jobs. It is evident that growth in this sector is crucial for rural job creation and will continue to be an important driver for growth in rural areas going forward. Every 1% of growth in this sector has the potential to contribute an additional 5% employment in the province.

The agricultural sector can be expected to feel the full brunt of global warming and droughts as a result of climate change. The impact of climate change due to global warming will have to be taken into account and research and support into diversifying agricultural production to mitigate the possible economic impacts of these threats must be embarked upon. The DA believes that emphasis should be placed on sustainable conservation farming practices, among others. The Department needs research on innovation, technology and biodiversity to determine the best practices in mitigating the effects of this.

It is also important to recognise what the impact of a divided past has had on our people in the province. The greatly skewed current dispensation of economic participation and land ownership in the province will have to be addressed in a balanced and constructive manner that does not negatively impact local economies or food security. The DA believes that the following will benefit this sector in the Free State:

- Mentorship programmes and partnerships can give emerging farmers additional support. Mentorship programmes should include skills and development transfers. It is important that emerging farmers are supported in order to become commercially viable enterprises. Such support must be conditional with time frames attached to it.

- Voluntary share equity schemes can give existing employees on farms a share in commercial enterprises either individually or through trusts. Such schemes supply incentives for improved productivity. Such schemes also inject capital into existing agricultural enterprise which can lead to expansion and increase job creation. This can ensure greater diversity in land ownership. There are already a number of successfully operating equity schemes in the Western Cape that can be used as models.

- An assessment of state supported projects in the Free State is urgently required. Interventions must be developed in order to ensure that the province gets value for money in terms of any further investments in agricultural projects. An evaluation of all existing projects needs to take place and assessed in order to determine their future viability. The government cannot continue to invest money in unsustainable or high-risk enterprises that only serve to create dependency. It is also important that the financial inputs into such projects are balanced with local economic and social outputs.

- Entrepreneurial training is important for any agricultural enterprise. The provincial government continues to inject a huge amount of money into projects that are not viable due to human relationship problems, lack of management skills, lack of markets, and other aspects such as transport. Projects must be run on a business basis that creates independence in the short term instead of long term dependence on government support. Every project should be assessed before implementation by experts in this field to determine viability as a business and ensure that the necessary business skills are available prior to implementation. Time frames and stringent conditions should be allocated to support of agricultural projects in order to incentivise the need to become sustainable. In-house skills must be recruited for this purpose.

- Greater emphasis and support for more environmentally friendly agricultural practices and research into conservation farming.

- Drought and other disaster relief must be fast tracked. Unlike other sectors, the agricultural sector has livestock that cannot wait for relief but require feed, water and other support on a daily basis.

Agro-processing and bio-fuels could create an important long term economic injection into the province. The Free State is known for exporting its agricultural products for packaging outside the province and then importing the same products. This not only increases the cost of the product, but also contributes immensely to carbon emissions. Agricultural products should be processed in the province and then sold locally and exported.

The agricultural sector has indicated that bio-fuels will not compete with food security and has the potential to allow the province to continue to lead in terms of petro-chemicals. The current weighting of Metsimaholo (Sasolburg) in terms of economic contribution could be balanced with bio-fuels development in other rural parts of the province, such as the Western Free State. We are aware that this is dependent on a national legislative and policy framework.

Both climate change and changing preferences in the market will force the agricultural sector to identify niche markets and diversify further. The Free State will have to look beyond traditional products and agricultural practices. There is already existing potential to increase demand for more fruit, vegetables and herbs. The herb market for medicinal purposes and essential oils have a great export potential, especially to the Far East.

The demand side of agriculture is becoming increasingly aware of animal welfare issues and all government projects and activities should take this aspect into account, especially those in agriculture. Investments in agricultural projects should take animal welfare into account and an emphasis should be placed on free range products to cater for a much more welfare-conscious consumer market.

The agricultural sector depends on a sound transport infrastructure and any development in this sector should be closely linked to this. Agriculture depends on roads to ensure that commodities and goods and services are able to move to and from the most remote rural areas of the province. This is also as applicable to rural safety and security. Both of these issues are huge stumbling blocks to investment in this sector. Currently the Eastern Free State along the Lesotho border is underutilised due to cross-border crime.

It is also important that Integrated Development Plans of municipalities in the province are linked to the agricultural sector. Better relationships need to develop between municipalities and farmers to ensure improved access to housing, education, health and welfare services for employees in this sector.

The province requires more emphasis of the entire value chain of agriculture and not just production. In this respect, agro-processing should be an important magnet for national and international investment and employment creation in the province. The province needs to carry out research into marketing opportunities for agricultural commodities that can be processed in the province for an export market.

The budget of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will be slightly affected by the reductions in the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) grant over the MTEF, but in spite of this, we see in increase in allocation over the MTEF for this Department which has a budget of R821,354 million for the 2019/20 financial year.

An area of concern in this Department remains their inability to manage their allocated funds effectively. In this respect the 2017/2018 Auditor general Report indicates that the following, among others, appear to be recurring:

- Material misstatements were due to leadership in the department who did not ensure that significant matters reported in the previous year were adequately addressed.

- The lack of monitoring of the procurement processes followed by implementing agents. We know that the controversial Vrede Dairy Project is only one the many projects that are subject to this.

- Lack of mechanisms to hold individuals accountable where internal controls were not adhered to.

- Evidence provided in reports did not necessarily portray the true situation on the ground since indicators were not well defined and supported by standard operating procedures that would allow for data to be collected consistently.

The Auditor General indicates in the 2017/18 financial year report that the Department made payments in contravention of supply chain management requirements that resulting in an over R191 million understatement of irregular expenditure.

The DA will continue to monitor the developments in this Department that is struggling to overcome the effects of illegal political interference. It remains a crucial Department for the province, one which this Legislature cannot afford to neglect. It is in the interests of our province that we praise what is good, and act decisively against what is bad and ugly.

Issued by Roy JankielsohnMPL and Leader of the official Opposition in the Free State Legislature, 10 July 2019