'Policy uncertainty frustrating SA's agricultural development'

Cape Town - As far as agriculture is concerned, policy uncertainty on a number of critical areas seriously impedes real positive development, according to Schalk Pienaar, chairperson of the agricultural business chamber Agbiz.

In his view, the time that is spent on what he describes as endless efforts to obtain clarity on policy and legislation, seriously impedes producers and businessmen to get on with the business of food production, processing and distribution and trade hereof.

"Unrealistic, impractical draft legislation also absorbs massive time and energy from both Government and industry to either get it changed or sent back to the legislators, instead of getting on with the job," he said his New Year's message to members.

READ: The biggest stumbling block for SA agriculture

"It remains very frustrating that Government is still burdened by very poor implementation capacity and ability in most areas affecting agriculture."

Dr John Purchase, Agbiz CEO, told Fin24 on Monday that especially policies regarding land reform and the regulations of the land holdings bill are creating uncertainty in the agricultural sector. There are also still issues regarding the expropriation bill and the Restitution Amendment Act. Other uncertainties relate to policies regarding water and water services as well as general economic uncertainty and uncertainty relating to the labour environment and energy.


Pienaar also pointed out that the drought and its effects have seriously affected the agricultural sector and in his view the ramifications thereof will still be felt for a long time.
"The worrying ongoing drought across large parts of the country and a lack of sufficient rain to fill storage dams is cause for serious concern, especially since the hardest hit by insufficient rainfall are the poorest of the poor," said Pienaar.

"Fortunately, some areas where our staple food is produced have been blessed with good downpours and the prospects do look positive should follow-up rains occur for the rest of the growing season."

Developments abroad

Pienaar cautioned that there are some developments abroad that should be watched. For instance, it remains to be seen how the policies of the incoming administration in the US will affect SA's agricultural sector.

"At worst new or changed policies could be extremely negative and at best the new administration will probably be indifferent towards Africa and South Africa," estimated Pienaar.

READ: Agri confidence in SA growth lowest since 2008

The European scenario - especially Brexit - is equally worrying to him. In both the case of the new US administration and Brexit, Pienaar said SA has two choices.

"We could adopt a wait and see attitude and hope that the fall-out of these changes in the Northern Hemisphere will not be to the detriment of our country. Or everyone involved in the agricultural value chain - including Government - should hasten to evaluate and assess the real facts and situations relating to these changes and - most importantly - develop and implement new strategies for the agricultural sector, not only to survive, but rather to thrive," explained Pienaar.

The New Year

In his view it is important for those involved in the SA agricultural sector not to feel hopeless or overwhelmed by all that is going on and over which individuals have little or no control.

"Certainly, we in agriculture should not be naive and head off into a direction where the threats are clearly visible. But we should take heart that in days gone by there were also droughts and political and economic and other developments that hindered progress, and those who went before us did overcome the mountains that they faced," said Pienaar.

"If the SA agricultural sector continues to believe in itself and the basic inherent goodness that prevails among the majority of South Africans, we can all take hands and help one another to overcome the difficulties and challenges that face us. Then 2017 may just be the year where the agricultural sector will show the way to economic recovery and growth by all of us putting our combined efforts and shoulders to the wheel."

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