Two unfinished master plans await ministerial vigour

Two agricultural sector master plans that have yet to deliver fully on their promises of growth and jobs should be high on the priority list for South Africa’s next government.

The 2019 poultry master plan and the 2022 agriculture and agro processing master plan focus on investment, growth and job creation. There have been some successes, but both contain lots of unfinished business.

Together, they constitute a to-do list for South African agriculture over the next few years. Agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo commented recently that the country did not need yet another agriculture plan – it should implement and complete the existing plans, updating them where necessary.

Sihlobo has focused on the slow progress of the master plan, noting earlier this year that it was “rooted in evidence-based research that outlines the possibilities for growth and the current growth-inhibiting factors” but that very little had been done.

The plan promised bold reforms in South Africa’s agricultural economy that had led to estimates that the gross value added to the sector could expand by over 15% in the following decade. Disappointingly, he wrote, the “vision that excited most role-players in the agricultural sector is beginning to wane”.

Sihlobo has set out 10 priority areas to “reignite” the agriculture and ago processing master plan, including land reform and funding for small-scale farmers.

Similarly, the government needs to pump new fire into the poultry master plan.

FairPlay has highlighted the delays and disappointments in the implementation of the poultry master plan. It is also way behind schedule and important objectives have not been met. 

The plan aimed to revitalise the poultry industry after it had been pitched into crisis by a flood of dumped chicken imports. The objectives were to curb imports and expand local chicken production, creating thousands of jobs through increased capacity to supply a bigger domestic market and hugely increased chicken exports.

Capacity expanded as the local industry invested some R1.8 billion and created nearly 2 000 jobs. Some of that capacity is now idle, and further investment is on hold, largely because while the poultry industry has met its master plan commitments, the government has not.

Chicken imports were promoted, because the government delayed the implementation of anti-dumping duties and instituted tariff rebates to encourage additional imports. Bird flu pitched profitable businesses into losses, and closed many small poultry operations because, unlike in other countries, the government refuses compensation for chickens it orders farmers to cull. 

The bird flu vaccination programme has yet to get underway because of onerous conditions producers must meet before they will be allowed to vaccinate their flocks.

Chicken exports have declined since 2019, when they should have doubled and trebled. A major issue is the lack of state veterinarians and facilities to provide the health certificates that exports must have. The master plan set out ways to fix this, but little has happened and exports are languishing.

The two agricultural master plans await the incoming government. They set out in detail how to improve agricultural performance and create jobs, particularly in rural areas. After years of too little action, what is needed now are ministers determined to implement them.

Lots of re-igniting is called for. Some ministerial dragons breathing fire would not come amiss.