The value of South African agricultural output has more than doubled in real terms since 1994, according to Bureau for Economic Research (BER).
Agricultural experts - Professor Johann Kirsten and Professor Ferdi Meyer - were assessing how the agricultural sector has performed against the development objectives and targets outlined in the National Development Plan (NDP).
While there was a sense of the exceptional performance of the agriculture sector, there were, however, threats on the horizon that could negate the gains of the last decade, according to the 2023 BFAP Baseline as well as data on land reform collected by the BER.
This growth was attributed to increased productivity, which was underpinned by technological innovation, as well as growth in traditional export markets in addition to access to new ones. It spanned across all sub-sectors of agriculture (livestock, horticulture and field crops).
They said the expansion of the horticultural sector had seen significant investments over the past decade to expand production well beyond the initial 2030 targets envisaged by the NDP. In recent years, however, the rate of growth had slowed down as the industry contended with multiple challenges.
Post establishment, produce took time to enter the market and when it eventually did, the need for additional volumes of shipments came up against global disruptions in the shipping industry and domestic challenges with regards to port capacity and efficiency of operations.
Furthermore, non-tariff protective trade measures had become increasingly challenging to navigate, requiring an effective partnership between the private sector and government to negotiate. This sector was labour intensive and remained the key driver of jobs in agriculture, they said.
A true success story in South African agriculture was soya bean production and processing and had transitioned South Africa from being a net importer to a net exporter of soyabeans. Most imported soya meal had been replaced and local market prices were trading well below import parity levels, which supported the relative competitiveness of intensive livestock operations, the experts said.
They said poultry remained the largest contributor to South Africa’s agricultural output, having achieved about one third of the envisaged growth in the first 10 years of the NDP.
“Nevertheless, the industry remains challenged by the current cycle of high feed product prices globally, and combined with the spread of Avian Influenza, and the additional costs associated with load shedding and poor municipal service delivery in many regions, this presents risks to the sustainability of recent investments into the industry.”
According to the authors, an important part of removing dualism in the South African agriculture sector lay in an efficient and sustainable land reform programme.
“The general perception is that the land reform programme has failed to deliver a recognisable shift in ownership patterns. However, the real situation is more nuanced. This is because land reform is made up of a number of initiatives. These include redistribution, restitution, financial compensation, private acquisition and state acquisition,” they said.
In 2012 the NDP set a target to redistribute (or restore) 30% (or 23.7 million hectares) of all freehold agricultural land to black South Africans by 2030.
“We have estimated that South Africa has now almost reached 25%. The dilemma is, however, that the State is one of the largest owners of farmland. A total of 11 million hectares, which includes the recently acquired 2.54 million hectares since 2006,” they said.
It is estimated that around 70% of restituted land in South Africa was less productive, in part because beneficiaries received limited or no post-settlement support.