Battling red tape: Winelands community stifles agri company

Red tape is stifling an agricultural company. Picture: iStock
Red tape is stifling an agricultural company. Picture: iStock

Sometimes it feels like we’re caught in the crossfire of competing interests.

Our company, Yara Africa Fertilizer, is part of Yara International. We supply crop nutrition to the agricultural sector in 160 countries around the world. We are committed to feeding people by helping farmers produce food.

As we wage war against hunger and its devastating impact on people, we fight to protect the planet and its resources from degradation and depletion. We apply this principle in everything we do, in all the countries we operate in, and among all the host communities we collaborate with.

At Yara we are painfully aware that the plight of the world’s hungry worsens every year. Our plans to respond to this global crisis include expanding the capacity of our crop nutrition blending facility at Paarl in the Western Cape.

We intend to invest heavily in increasing the size of the facility. We want to introduce modern facilities to blend crop nutrition more efficiently, generate additional economic and agricultural development, and create more employment for people.

We recognise that investment in South Africa’s agricultural sector is critical to the country’s overall economic development aspirations and to improving food security for all our people.

Four years ago, Yara applied to the Drakenstein Municipality to expand our existing facility in a designated industrial area in Paarl, which has been our home for the past 16 years.

The municipality initially declined the expansion, but it was later reviewed and approved. The municipality also called for public comment.

The plans have met with resistance from a small group of people living in nearby communities. People are concerned about the impact of our expanded facility on their health and safety, and about whether they will be exposed to additional noise and dust pollution.

This is where we now find ourselves – we are caught between executing our company’s mission to feed the world responsibly, and putting a hold on our investment and development plans to address the concerns of communities.

We accept that all communities have every right to question the impact of any local development initiative on their lives. Yara supports their right to voice their concerns and we are committed to addressing them transparently and truthfully.

Here are the facts:

  • When initiating an environmental impact assessment it was not deemed necessary by the Western Cape provincial government, owing to the nature of our operations.
  • As a result of the concerns raised by the residents, three independent air quality assessments were conducted to verify the claims of potential health risks. The tests measured dust fall, chemical fingerprinting, ammonia levels and corrosion. The results were well within international standards and tests found that the Yara blending facility was not a source of pollution and therefore not a health risk.
  • A traffic assessment concluded that there would be no significant impact on existing traffic flows and no new road infrastructure was required.

We are confident that we have met all the legal and environmental criteria for expanding our operation in Paarl.

We have addressed the legitimate concerns raised by the local community directly with the community.

Regrettably, the community has rejected the results of the tests conducted by accredited independent agencies and is disputing the methodology used by these recognised experts.

Our plans, almost four years later, are still on hold.

Ten years ago, 4.3 million people were unemployed in South Africa. Today 6.7 million are out of work. Our plans to create additional jobs in Paarl, at a time when every job counts, are frozen.

Our government is fully aware that a massive injection of foreign investment is desperately needed to boost economic growth and create employment.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed high-ranking envoys to travel the globe to seek foreign investment, yet Yara has had to shelve its decision to invest significantly in South Africa and its future.

The deadlock we now found ourselves in, and the suspension of our investment, is bound to undermine further investment decisions by other investors.

Meanwhile, economic growth, job creation and food security continue to be at risk.

We should all be seriously concerned about the deadlock that we at Yara find ourselves in. The consequences extend far beyond our own company’s expansion plans, beyond the agricultural sector in the Western Cape, beyond the unfounded claims of the community.

We are determined to break the deadlock and unlock the full potential of investing in South Africa’s economy. Yara will soon hold an open day at our crop nutrition blending facility in Paarl. We will invite members of the media to see what we do for themselves, and some may want to venture out into the winelands and fruit farms to see how our crop nutrition improves crops.

We will continue collaborating with all communities and responding to all their concerns transparently and accountably.

We remain committed to our investment and to contributing meaningfully to South Africa’s economic growth and to the prosperity of all our people.

But we cannot remain in the crossfire between unfounded claims which are not based on fact and our intention to invest in South Africa at a time when investment is urgent, to create more jobs as unemployment continues to rise, and to enhance agricultural production when the planet’s food security is at stake and more and more people go to sleep hungry every night.

If the current differences between Yara and the community cannot be converted into collaboration, if we cannot move past the deadlock, we will be forced into making tough decisions.

That will be a sad day for Yara, and a sad day for Drakenstein community.

Thuma mina.

Ferreira is regional manager for Yara in southern Africa


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