Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

JOHANNESBURG – Land reform is one of the political hot potatoes of our time and remains one of the more contentious policy issues. 

However, for the existing 250 000 or so emerging farmers, access to land has not been their most pressing problem, nor will providing more small-scale black farmers with land be the silver bullet that will increase much needed transformation in the agricultural sector. 

It is still fair to say that most of the large-scale commercial farmers in both crop and livestock farming are largely white and well established. This doesn’t make their existence any less precarious as all farmers are subject to the vagaries of the weather, price fluctuations and many other factors. 

But the supply chain of the average farm is enormous. The inputs required to produce what will eventually be an oven ready chicken or an ice cold beer are significant and extensive and it is here in these production processes that there is much potential to include more small, black, emerging players in the value chain, creating much needed jobs in the process.

For all the difficulties the poultry sector has faced from foreign imports, it remains a viable business into which our local producers are still investing. 

Later this week, Country Bird Holdings, a proud member of Proudly South African, will be unveiling their latest investment in a facility in Hartbeespoort, and we look forward to attending and adding our words of support. 

Unlike those countries, which send their unwanted bone in chicken pieces to South Africa, keeping only their preferred cuts of white breast meat, South Africans consume just about every bit of the bird, including the gizzards, livers, and “walkie talkies” – heads and feet for those of you who don’t know – which are a great favourite in the townships. 

This is a lot of chicken to go around. And chickens need feed, they need shelter and a host of other products and services to get them from broiler to boiler and so somewhere in that process is ample opportunity for transformation and incorporating small scale suppliers into the value chain.

Other large corporations in other sectors are working with emerging farmers to ensure their sustainability, and in so doing the companies secure their own quality supply of raw materials – these including Edcon and Mr Price and others in the SA Cotton Cluster who have nurtured new and existing cotton farmers ensuring a local supply of cotton for garment manufacturing, which is creating jobs from the field to the finished item of clothing.

SA Breweries also has an interest in agriculture, requiring barley and hops to brew their beers, and thanks to their work with local farmers, they can now claim at least 97 percent local content in their bottles and cans. If the farmers are to be believed, government support in the agricultural sector is inadequate. Funding is almost impossible and access to market for the smaller farmers is impenetrable. 

What is required is goodwill from the large, commercial farmers, and from end users of the raw materials the farmers are producing, to play their part in contracting with the small scale producers, giving them a piece of the action, and providing them with the off-take agreements that would enable them to access funding and other assistance from financial institutions.

If the big agricultural sector companies do not acknowledge the role they must play in this regard and do not fast track transformation, dishing out land to aspirant farmers will be a futile exercise. The new farmers will fail, not for the want of hard work and passion for the land, but because they are denied access to their share of the local market.

The appeal by Amanda Black in her song Vuleka ‘Amazulu’, in which she pleads for the heavens to open, has a dual meaning in this column on agriculture. 

The farmers need rain, but we also need those in the echelons of power in the agricultural sector to transform and open up opportunities within the value chain in that industry in order to ensure that the socio-economic agenda of the country can be meaningfully advanced.

Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly South African. The views expressed here are his own. 

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