Tough times ahead for SA ’ s commercial agricultur­e


COMMERCIAL agricultur­e 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 ahead.

But a decrease in food production by commercial agricultur­e has 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.

The value chain holds many business and career opportunit­ies. But, to take advantage of these opportunit­ies, people need to possess the necessary expertise and skills.

It is incumbent on our policymake­rs 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 pensions, shares, housing, investment­s, etc.

But all of these are pos- sible 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 worrying about a lack of rain, criminals who target farmers, workers and livestock, as well as uncertaint­y over land claims and 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 in SA, 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.

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 emerging farmers, entreprene­urs, workers and a new generation of commercial farmers is hardly possible.

But with help from the state, banks, the retail sector and other commercial entities it is possible to address the issues that impact negatively on the growth of the agricultur­al sector.

Van der Rheede is deputy CEO of AgriSA

“Decrease in food production has implicatio­ns for

the country

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