The abundance of quality and cheap food in South Africa not to be taken for granted!

2015-09-09 15:05

Commercial agriculture, despite its massive contribution to ensure quality and cheap food in South Africa is experiencing severe political and economic pressure.

Calls for nationalisation, accusations of commercial farmers being land thieves and barbarians who abuse and exploit their workers, low profit margins, cheaper imports and drought predictions are all indicators of tough times lying ahead.

However, a decrease in food production by commercial agriculture poses serious implications for the approximately 257 million people in the Southern African Development Community who are dependent on South Africa for basic food products, processing and distribution. In addition, millions of fellow Africans flock across our country's borders to find employment on our farms and earn a living.

South African commercial farmers also share their expertise on a large scale with emerging farmers locally and in other African countries. This involves assistance with sustainable food production and development of local communities. For this, they hardly receive any recognition and support from the state and other role players higher up in the value chain.

Without the current crop of 31 000 commercial farmers and their workers, the agricultural value chain and the prosperity chain are doomed. It is these farmers who produce approximately 93% of our country's food and make a major contribution to the training of the 2, 3 million subsistence farmers, enabling them to access opportunities in the various value chains in agriculture.

Apart from continuously striving for greater effectiveness, they also have a vision and an undeniable goodwill to scale up the value chain and prosperity chain, especially for emerging farmers and farm workers.

The value chain holds many business and career opportunities. However, to take advantage of these opportunities, people should possess the necessary expertise and skills. It is incumbent on our policy-makers to put policy in place which will broaden the value chain. As for the prosperity chain, it is important that our people should acquire assets such as pension, shares, housing, investments, etc.

However, all of these are possible only if there is economic growth through investment, productivity, competitiveness and job creation.

These truths have not dawned on many people. Especially not consumers and certain political pressure groups.

Cheap food, available food and quality food are things often taken for granted.

Few realise that it requires hard work and sweat, and many sleepless nights due to worrying about a lack of rain, criminals who target farmers, workers and livestock, uncertainty over land claims and many other matters.

It is no wonder that more and more farmers resort to putting their farms up for sale. Research reports paint a sombre picture. In 1980 there were approximately 128 000 commercial farmers, but this figure dropped to 58 000 in 1997. In 2007 the number of farms dropped to 40 000, and researchers expect that this figure will drop to 15 000 in the next 15 years.

And as the number of farmers in the primary agricultural sector decreases, so does the number of workers in the sector. In 1980 there were 1.25 million workers in the primary agricultural sector. In 2010 this number stood at more or less 830 000. Today there are about 600 000 workers in the sector. Unemployment and despair in rural areas are on the increase.

A means to counter unemployment is to create even more opportunities for the thousands of people who make the most of the various entrepreneurial opportunities within the agricultural sector. Even at basic level many make a living by simply purchasing all kinds of agricultural products from commercial farmers and selling these products for a small profit. This is particularly evident in areas where commercial farmers are farming on an extensive scale. Without them, the development of entrepreneurs, emerging farmers, workers and a new generation of commercial farmers is hardly possible.

With help from the state, our large banks, the retail sector and other commercial entities it is possible to address the issues that impact negatively on growth. Because not only is a growing and prosperous agricultural sector as opposed to a weak and decaying sector critical for transforming and improving efficiency in the agricultural sector, but it is even more critical for producing quality and affordable agricultural products to markets all over South Africa, large parts of Africa and international markets.

A shared vision and pragmatism is all it requires to bring about sustainable and inclusive business as well as people growth in the agricultural sector.

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