Don't forget the 35,000 feeding 50m - TAU SA

Ben Marais says the farming community needs to be part of an economic CODESA

Following is a letter TAU SA sent to and which was published by Johannesburg business newspaper Business Day (15.7.11) in response to the editor Peter Bruce's recent column on the possibilities of an  "Economic Codesa", and that business in general seemed to be in favour of such a get-together.

Clearly, business is worried, especially now that strikes have hit our country, and TAU SA felt that it was timeous that business and the broader South Africa be reminded of the crucial role played by the commercial farming sector in South Africa, and to  highlight the dangers of government's suggestions that importing food could be a suitable alternative to a home-grown agricultural sector.

Dear Sir,

As you know, the commercial farming sector has been arguably the main target of government rancor and punitive legislation. Since 1994, numerous laws have been passed where the commercial farmer is subjected to the infringement of property rights, is required higher taxes with little in return, and even finds limits imposed on his productive capacity. This sector has the highest murder rate outside a war zone, and its numbers have decreased to a low of 35 000, down from 70 000 a few years ago.

TAU SA is presently discussing a plan to gather together representatives of the millions of South Africans involved in the food industry - farmers, retailers, packaging companies, veterinary practitioners, seed, plant and fertilizer suppliers, vehicle and equipment sellers and maintainers, construction companies, stock and poultry feed suppliers, animal medicine and computer companies, stock and poultry feed suppliers, water pollution experts - and the hundreds of other groups involved in the production, transport, hygienic oversight, wholesaling and retailing of food.

Think of it - without these 35 000 commercial farmers, the country's most important industry - food production - would collapse, and many would come down with it. 

While some elements in the government contemptuously dismiss this agriculture dependency scenario with the retort that food can be imported, this risible reaction should be viewed with trepidation. It is a foolish South African who ignores this mindlessness - Africa is replete with the results of political slogans which have no basis in logic, and we believe it is time that businessmen come to the aid of farmers because importing food puts South Africa at such risk, and such vulnerability that even a cursory analysis of the susceptibility and unreliability of external food sources should make a sensible South African shudder.

But we are not dealing with sensible men - we are dealing with political ideologues whose dislike of the commercial farming sector is only exceeded by their recklessness in the face of historical and geographical examples of the distress which accompanies reliance on external food suppliers, food aid, the World Food Programme and others.

So let the businessmen get together with their Codesa, but nothing will mean anything without food. Business has despairingly ignored the plight of commercial farmers, assuming that they will go on producing under difficult circumstances forever. For those in government who blithely talk of alternative sources of food, they are also assuming that the taxes from mining and other sources will forever fund their overseas food purchases. With the decline in new mining and other investment as a result of injudicious government policies, we all know that to be a fool's dream.

We urge business to take into account the importance of food production when they get their Codesa groups together, because without the 35 000 farming families feeding 50 million people, all other discussion will be meaningless.

Yours truly


Issued by TAU SA, July 22 2011

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