SA Agriculture Set for New Rounds of Contestment

2015-07-13 11:22

South Africa’s agricultural industry looks set for fresh rounds of yet more contestation, as recent reports have indicated increased rates technological application and mechanization by commercial plot owners. With the future of thousands of farmworkers at stake as a result of this adoption, fears as to the route of recourse by these threatened farmworkers lends to already shaky ground regarding farm attacks and other forms of violent protest against farm owners. Filtrations through state aligned media houses have been known to dumb down the seriousness of this issue, with state intelligence even being known to step in at times when reports are thought too gruesome for mass visibility.

The adoption of agricultural technology, as is now well known, looks only set to increase. This comes especially as pressure from growing populations (the UN expects the global population to reach 9 billion by 2050 - but I'd predict an earlier date) and worsening climate change necessitates innovation and implementation almost immediately. Unfortunately, the adoption of technology in the commercial sector adds yet another proverbial mound to ‘the land question’ of South Africa. This can only add to the woes of the ANC led government, not to mention race and class relations in the country.

Positive contributions in the form of Co-operatives between smallholders and agribusiness have been implemented. These mostly occur through coercion and support by the state. One example where these co-operatives are yielding [some] fruit is the Eastern Cape; where attempts to incorporate & streamline smallholders into citrus export markets have yielded some gains. Despite considerable work to be done in meeting compliance standards through smallholder management and administrative competency, programs like these can ensure sustainability of South Africa’s food sources in the long run. KZN upon cursory glance seems to yield little in comparison when questioning the provincial government’s commitment to developing smallholders into commercial farmers; this is despite the province harbouring the largest number of smallholders in the country.

Established Farming fraternities have lamented their frustrations of what they say has become a cornering of their interests and liberties by government for the sake of redistribution and historical correction from the 1913 Land Act. It need not be said that greater co-operatives between agribusiness and smallholders/farmworkers, aimed at collective development should be replicated across the board and made the utmost priority. This is necessary should South Africa avert a replication of revolutions past in neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe. The general sentiment expressed by South Africans of late, and many contributors to this platform does hint at a deep and prevailing fear of a similar fate for our country. Given the clear and present danger presented in the agricultural sector, such fears are perfectly understandable. This can only be cemented if one considers the compounded inequality South Africa now is well known to possess. All the makings of a perfect storm are in place.

Just a few weeks ago, President of the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU), Louis Meintjes, remarked banks need to join the food industry in opposing government policies that threaten the future of commercial farming and pose a risk to South Africa's food security. Judging by the rate of techno-adoption in the commercial industry, I’d be led to believe they most certainly have. The longterm effects of this adoption may yet come to haunt all involved. Including finance, agri-business and other fraternities aimed at maintaining prominence in the agro-industry. With new land restrictions soon coming into effect, allowing a maximum of 2 plots (or 12 000 ha) to be owned by commercial farmers, redistribution is once again beset by opposition from established actors and institutions using and motivating their cause through the usual fear tactics.

The ANC led government, fresh from the vestiges of the Marikana tragedy would want to be foresightedly proactive regarding this issue. But with the fault lines already well defined between the government, farmworkers and farm owners, it seems as though this is a battle the likes of which is set to continue needlessly, with govt. and agro-business both acting in self interest. Whether redistribution can be tempered with knowledge sharing and genuine reciprocation from all three sides (govt, smallholders/workers and large landowners/commercial farmers) should now be the question on everyone’s lips. This is especially as natural phenomena compounds the limited time available to all, regardless of colour, creed or class. Given the current drought befalling KZN and parts of the Free State as a precursor of what's in store, I’d vouch for a collective solution before it’s too late.

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