South Africa is at a crossroad

2015-09-08 12:25


Fanie Brink - Independent Agricultural Economist

South Africa has come to a crossroad. One road leads to a developing country that is characterised by continued economic growth and greater prosperity but which has arrived at a dead end since the new political development in 1994. The new government, however, decided to choose the opposite road that leads to an underdeveloped country where the agriculture delivers the largest contribution to the economy and where the population becomes more and more dependent on the agriculture every day for their survival. Food in these countries is produced by small subsistence farmers and the bulk of the population is consequently experiencing hunger and malnutrition. As many as 60 percent of the small subsistence farmers are struggling every day for their own survival and cannot make any contribution to the food security of these countries. These countries can also not survive without financial and food aid from the international community and donors.

The government's destruction process of the country's human, natural and financial resources and assets will have unimaginable consequences for the country which most people at this stage don’t realise. The country has now almost reached the point where the prosperity and progress that South Africa as a developing country has created over a long period of time, is coming to an end and the country is brought to a crossroad.

Since the adoption of the National Development Plan as the government's official policy for future development, the country in general and the economy in particular did so bad that its relevance is seriously questioned because there had already been too much irreversible damage done. The serious onslaught this year on the economic survival of a primary industry such as the agriculture is a clear indication of how fast the pace accelerated to place South Africa on the road to starvation and greater poverty.

The government's land policy will be the last nail in the coffin of South Africa as a developing country. Earlier this year, the minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Mr Gugile Nkwinti, has given more clarity on the government’s future land policy through the establishment of a land ceiling, the redistribution of more agricultural land than the initial 30% target and the ultimate goal that the total number of landowners should reflect the composition of the entire population. With this the government has made it very clear that land redistribution is purely a political objective that will not take future food security and economic growth in South Africa into account and will actually only be utilised to stay in power without considering any other proposals in this regard.

The general accepted agricultural policy objectives of the government for the development of small subsistence farmers on the one hand and the maintenance of food security on the other hand will never be compatible, as already proven for decades in Africa and other underdeveloped countries in the world.

The inability and failures of the government to successfully established a significant number of small subsistence farmers as the beneficiaries of land claims and redistribution, together with the total collapse of the Department of Agriculture, will not help the proposals of the National Development Plan for agriculture to succeed. The specific proposals of the Commission stated that ... “After being identified, the land would be bought by the state at 50 percent of market value (which is closer to its fair productive value). The shortfall of the current owner will be made up by cash or in-kind contributions from the commercial farmers in the district who volunteer to participate. In exchange, commercial farmers will be protected from losing their land and gain black economic empowerment status.”

These proposals should be rejected as pure wishful thinking and provides more than enough reason why the National Development Plan for agriculture is totally unacceptable, despite the fact that it is still being proclaimed as the official policy of the government. The serious  threat that the ownership of commercial farmers who don’t want to voluntarily participate in the plan will apparently not even has the further protection of the Constitution of the country is totally unacceptable and should be treated with suspicion. These suggestions, together with the threats by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, should be reason enough for commercial farmers to draw a line and to walk away from any further support to the development of small subsistence farmers at the expense of their own financial survival. It will also be necessary for the organised agriculture to purify itself from those who want to further co-operate with the government to plunge this country into subsistence farming, hunger and poverty at the expense of commercial agriculture. The entire food chain in the country is totally dependent on the commercial agriculture.

As far as the other proposals of the Commission for the agricultural industry are concerned, it is very clear that not one of the Commissioners of the Commission have any idea what it means and takes to ensure the long-term financial survival of farmers and sustainable food security during the hard times in agriculture such as droughts, floods, macroeconomic setbacks and political threats!

The established commercial producers also have no longer a choice but to join forces with the commercial and industrial industries, such as input suppliers, agribusiness and food manufacturers, as well as service providers and consumer organisations, to point these treats that the country is experiencing out to the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Food Organization. It is not in the interest of anyone in Southern Africa if the country is dismantled and eventually totally destroyed. Agriculture cannot do it all by itself and it is also not just the agriculture's responsibility.

It's actually quite ironic that while South Africa is developing small subsistence farmers, many African countries are already working for some time with financial support from the international community and donors to transform the agriculture in their countries to commercial profitable and sustainable agricultural industries.

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