Agriculture’s loss SA’s gain, says Grain SA on Didiza’s post as Speaker of Parliament

Grain SA has described outgoing Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza as a consummate Africanist. SIMPHIWE MBOKAZI/Independent Newspapers.

Grain SA has described outgoing Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza as a consummate Africanist. SIMPHIWE MBOKAZI/Independent Newspapers.

Published Jun 18, 2024


Grain SA has hailed former Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (Dalrrd), Thoko Didiza, as a leader who successfully steered the department through great difficulty at the time the industry was facing a number of headwinds, including El Niño and La Niña challenges, the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, among many others.

This comes as Didiza will not return to head Dalrrd after she was elected Speaker of National Assembly for the 7th administration on Friday.

Grain SA CEO Dr Tobias Doyer yesterday said Didiza was known for her inclusive approach to consultations, involving everyone from the far left to the far right.

“This, often alarmed centrist-organised agricultural bodies, who believed that some of the more extreme elements should not be consulted or included in meetings,” Doyer said.

“This approach initially unsettled some sections of organised agriculture, as it signalled a shift from the privileged status previously enjoyed by commercial farmers.

“However, as time passed, it became clear that Minister Didiza’s commitment to Africanist ideals remained steadfast. Importantly, this did not entail disadvantaging or shutting down the commercial sector, but she never wavered from transformation objectives. Agriculture’s loss will be South Africa’s gain.”

Doyer said he believed that the most important legacies of the minister’s tenure were the delivery of land transformation to nationally agreed objectives; the establishment of a stable policy environment; and fostering an inclusive agricultural sector.

On the other hand, Doyer said one significant challenge that continues to demand attention was ensuring that land reform farms were not only economically productive but also internationally competitive.

“The missed opportunities in my opinion are the deterioration of agricultural colleges, the challenges experienced in product registration under Act 36, and the effective engagement of the Land Bank,” he said.

Doyer said the Land Bank became somewhat of a pawn in larger governmental politics as it was shuffled between different ministries and reporting lines.

“As a result, the capabilities, capacity and consistency needed to support emerging farmers and land reform recipients with the necessary financial structures were not sufficiently developed.”

Doyer said animal health and biosecurity were also particular challenges.

“I think the most significant problems were created by the near failure of Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) to produce the required vaccines continuously and consistently,” he said.

OBP is a South African state-owned animal vaccine manufacturing entity.

“This was compounded by a change in policy that ceased compensation to farmers whose animals had to be culled due to biosecurity needs.

“Consequently, these farmers began to actively move their animals and conceal any signs of disease, as it would be an economic disaster if their animals were culled by the department. This behaviour expedited the spread of disease which reduced animal health, productivity, and biosecurity.”

Asked about the agricultural industry’s expectations for the sector going forwards, Doyer said the sector held substantial capacity to maintain and at best create jobs in rural areas, especially if the commercial sector was stimulated by fostering an export-led focus in the department.

Doyer said service delivery could be substantially improved by public-private partnerships (PPPs) as seen in the partnerships between commercial banks and the Department of Home Affairs.

“PPPs can help optimise the use of resources by combining the strengths of both sectors” he said.

“A very important PPP is the need for implementing comprehensive crop insurance schemes to mitigate risks whereby the private sector’s efficiency, innovation, and capital can be effectively combined with the public sector’s regulatory framework and reach,” Doyer said.