Farmers not investing in their farms because of land expropriation. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency
Cape Town - Food security for the country’s ever-growing population is under threat as farmers have a collective debt of R160billion. Fewer crops are being harvested, farmers are investing less in their farms, and jobs are being lost.

The core of the problem is the issue of land expropriation without compensation, which has farmers throwing caution to the wind before making any considerable investment in their farms.

The countrywide drought has also negatively affected the agricultural sector as farmers have lost crops or had to cull their livestock.

The national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries presented its performance plan to Parliament’s committee on agriculture.

Director for statistics and economic analysis Ellen Matsei said the land expropriation talks had triggered great instability. “Land expropriation is a stumbling block. Farmers feel there is too much uncertainty and they want to move forward, but they have decided not to because they want to see how things turn out,” she said.

Matsei said the agri-business confidence index for quarter 3, 2018 was below the 50-point mark. “It is currently at 48.6% below from quarter 2 estimate, influenced by sub-indices in the areas of unemployment, capital investment confidence, export volumes and economic growth. The root of the pessimism is lingering policy uncertainty and weak economic growth,” she said.

Added to low confidence in the sector, farming debt totalled R160bn. Also, maize production took a dip in the first quarter of the year with vegetables and deciduous. A total of 4000 jobs were lost in the second quarter of the year. Figures showed that in quarter 1 there were 847 000 farmworkers, but that figure was reduced to 843 000.

Food inflation has soared, with meat prices reaching just more than 7%. Products that have remained below the 5% benchmark are bread and cereals, fruit and oil and fats.

Professor Nick Kotze of the University of Stellenbosch said the farming population was diminishing.

“There is an expectation that by 2030 we will see about 80% of the population living in the urban areas. We see that more and more people are moving to the cities, but there is an expectation that the small population in the rural areas need to produce food for the urban areas. It can be unsustainable,” he said.

Agri-Western Cape chairman Carl Opperman said farmers were waiting for the government to rectify land issues. “The only way to ensure there is food security is to remove the unnecessary issues around land expropriation.

“We need clarity and certainty. The government needs to ensure that services are delivered to rural communities so people don’t all flock to the cities. That will cause serious food security problems, if the rural population that produces the food is reduced,” he said.

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Cape Argus