Grain production is deacresing in South by Simphiwe Mbokazi
Grain production is deacresing in South by Simphiwe Mbokazi
A maize harvest at Gourton Farm in KZN .  Photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi 2
A maize harvest at Gourton Farm in KZN . Photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi 2

It must be said that the Land Act of 1913 and the subsequent rule of apartheid, an abomination, denied the majority of South Africans a stake in the agricultural sector. It denied them their dignity and the right to own land, which deepened the poverty that prevails today.

However, pronouncements made by politicians oversimplify the reasons that land reform was and still is such a dismal failure.

The constitution is blamed, current landowners are blamed, and this detracts from the true reasons land reform has been such a failure so far. We need to return to the inclusive premise that was handed down by the late Nelson Mandela, who set the example of an inclusive process that South Africans of all professions need to re-implement.

For only by a deepening of co-operation will we reach the necessary success rate. Of equal importance, we need to address the levels of corruption that are undermining, not only the success, but also the sustainability of our economy.

Grain SA would like to warn civil society about the vulnerability of food security in South Africa, in this summer grain production year. One weather phenomenon, where a cyclone developed over the Indian Ocean and pushed a low pressure cell further to the west, resulted in abundant precipitation that saved the food security of the country.

If that had not developed, the resultant drought would have destroyed our food security within the following week, on crops already stressed.

Is it not apt that in January we exported 250 000 tons of maize to Zimbabwe to stave off the hunger of its people? Food security is not a privilege but a right, enjoyed by all South Africans, and it should be coveted as a national asset.

The time has come for South Africans to unite and co-operate on the challenges that face us as a nation. An inability to do so will destroy the fabric of our society, for hungry people are ungovernable. Food imports will further exacerbate the trade deficit, which we can ill afford.

Grain SA appeals to all South Africans to close ranks, for only then can we ensure that the imperatives are met and, in doing so, uphold the letter and spirit of our constitution. The dialogue between all interested parties must start in earnest, for a time will come when the weather will dictate that we cannot produce enough food for ourselves.

Grain SA a willing and responsible participant in the land reform negotiations through the African Farmers’ Association of SA and AgriSA, two national agricultural unions.

Grain SA has noticed that the debate has moved to the media and would like to give our view as well as a more realistic outlook.

We state clearly that we do not support Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti’s proposal to give 50 percent of each farm to the workers without compensation to the owners.

Such a decision will immediately not only put food security at risk, but lead to massive price increases, higher inflation, increase in interest rates and eventually manifest in slower economic growth.

Slower economic growth will put more people out of a job and poverty will become a stark reality for many. South Africa can ill afford to destroy wealth by irresponsible government intervention into a free market system that has produced cheap food and fibre for consumption by its people.

The five-month strike on the platinum mines was a good indicator as to what will happen if farmers are not allowed to exercise their constitutional right to produce food in a free market environment. In this case it will last much longer and could lead to anarchy, as we experienced in north Africa and the Middle East in 2008. It all started with food prices and shortages.

Grain crop production is financed by the commercial banks and agribusinesses. The land is used as collateral to secure the necessary funds to procure seed, fertiliser, chemicals and diesel. Without the title deeds of the land, there is no finance. Without finance, there is no production.

The greatest impediment for black grain farmers is access to finance, by virtue of the fact that they do not hold the title deed of the land that they work. Most of the land belongs to the state and by affording them the title deed, you enable them to acquire financing from commercial banks and agribusinesses.

The minister’s proposal will reduce the hectares under crop production by at least 50 percent, which could curtail the production capacity with immediate effect. By implication, shortages and massive price increases will be the order of the day. Prices will increase by virtue of international price determination, from export to import parity.

The maize price will logically increase by about R1 400 a ton, or 70 percent, and will accelerate demand exceeding supply. That will raise general inflation above the Reserve Bank’s targets. South African ports are not geared to import huge quantities of grain and food shortages will become a reality. Food shortages around the world have the ability to create political instability.

There is enough research to indicate that there is a strong correlation between high food prices coupled with shortages and anarchy. This could surely not be on the minister’s mind. Every political imperative has its consequences.

These consequences are not desired outcomes as to the constitution of South Africa, or for that matter the Freedom Charter. South Africans should carefully consider the socio-economic consequences, especially for the poor, who spend a larger proportion of their income on food than other income groupings.

This is not a wage negotiation. We are dealing with the future sustenance of our nation.

Grain SA supports land reform in a way that maintains food security as well as political stability. An unrealistic proposal such as this would further complicate these imperatives and lead to racial polarisation rather than the aim of deracialising rural communities and economies and will lead to a deepening of the poverty experienced by so many in the country.

Trade union-style tactics and constant farmer-bashing are outdated in a liberal constitutional dispensation in our fledgling democracy.

Grain SA, with the financial support of the Maize Trust and other grain trusts, has been actively transforming the sector for more than 10 years.

More than 200 black commercial grain farmers are now in a position to produce agricultural grain commodities economically and sustainably. The training of almost 700 farmworkers this year has enabled them to become more economically sustainable.

We further enhance their capacity by training and to address household food security.

While the wages of farmworkers are in the media, we confirm that Grain SA pays R3 189 a month, plus a 13th cheque, to our farmworkers at the Nampo farm.

Grain SA’s membership of black farmers has grown to more than 4 000 and exceeds the number of white members.

We have been successful in establishing many commercial black farmers and were crestfallen when the government scaled down the recapitalisation programme. We have nine regional Grain SA offices, exclusively focusing on rendering extension services and training to black farmers. We fail to understand why this programme is not regarded by the government as important.

Grain SA is not just debating land reform, it is practising it successfully. It is delivering the results the government and civil society desire: successful black farmers and food security. Disregarding the property rights of individuals will have major implications for the whole economy. Every seed planted by a farmer is an investment against poverty.

* Louw Steytler is the chairman of Grain SA.