WHILE some progress had been made seeing some black farmers joining commercial production and supply chains, the combination of poor and slow implementation of land reform, inefficient government decisions and support systems, bureaucratic delays, the misfortunes of drought and diseases have all entrenched the divide between commercial agriculture (mainly white) and subsistence farming (mainly black), says the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz).
The association of agribusinesses operating in South and southern Africa’s chief economist, Wandile Sihlobo, said this week that recent studies showed that black South African farmers produced a mere less than 10 percent of the country’s total agricultural output.
“This number is, at best, a guestimate, and unfortunately, hides the stellar progress in maize production, wool production, commercial cattle farming; where black farmers are responsible for a sizeable share of 34 percent of stock), and some horticulture products. In addition to this, the numbers also do not consider transactions in informal value chains and sales into small local markets.
“This is because the reported shares are largely extracted from records provided by the commodity organisations as part of their commitment to transformation. The incomplete picture is also a result of the way the Agricultural Census conducted by Statistics South Africa is done, that is, including only VAT registered farmers in the census,” Sihlobo said.
The slow progress in black farmers' total share of farm output could be attributed to a lack of direction and fast decision-making in the national and provincial government as well as poorly designed programmes to support black farmers to become part of the commercial sectors, Agbiz said.
The poor adoption of the latest technology to increase productivity and a lack of collaboration between the government and the private sector as manifested through commodity organisations, agribusinesses, commercial farmer organisations had also resulted in the slow implementation of the farmer development plans.
“The farmer organisations are frustrated with the lack of delivery and bureaucratic inefficiency. When they do try to implement transformation initiatives, these are sometimes not supported by government officials, primarily at provincial level and in the municipalities, and as a result, the farmers who need and deserve support the most are underserved,” Sihlobo said.
He said that the inefficiency of many of the provincial Departments of Agriculture resulted in poor and non-delivery of critical programmes to support farmers, especially in the former homeland regions like KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, North West and Limpopo. This includes animal bio-security, water infrastructure, farm security, extension and CASP funding.
The slow delivery of critical large infrastructure projects like the Brandvlei Dam, where raising the canal walls by 30 cm for 4 km at the cost of about R20 million would result in an additional 33-million cubic metres of water, leading to an additional 4 000 ha of irrigated horticulture in the area, has been neglected. He said such an extension in area plantings would have facilitated the inclusion of black farmers and contributed to job creation and export earnings for the country.
According to Agbiz, in the North West, Mpumalanga and Free State, the failure of municipalities to deliver basic services such as water, electricity and road maintenance had been amongst some of the major constraints to higher growth of agribusiness increased transaction costs of moving agricultural products.
Sihlobo said similarly, in the old Transkei region, prime agricultural lands such as Magwa tea could be reoriented to high-value horticulture, which was also labour intensive and to attract private sector players for co-investing in infrastructure in the surrounding areas.
The association said while black farmers owned a decent share of cattle in South Africa, unfortunately, the poor implementation of animal bio-security systems and the enforcement of regulations on disease controls and the movement of animals had a negative impact on the commercial aspirations of many black farmers.
Many of these contributing factors to the continuation of dualism in South African agriculture were said to require only effective policy-making and the right incentives.
Sihlobo said there was minimal need for massive expenditure programmes as a quick reform on the non-monetary interventions could go a long way in boosting growth.
Agbiz said that the current dualistic farming structure of South Africa's agriculture was not sustainable.
“But the failure to improve it over the past decades cannot be laid before the door of the private sector only. It is evident that poor record of policy implementation, inefficient programmes and bureaucratic delays on critical aspects and poor coordination within government are largely to blame,” said Sihlobo.
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