We ask the experts: How can SA boost its agri sector

We asked a handful of key opinion leaders and experts this question: Following the general elections, what do you think a new government could do to quickly unlock South Africa’s agricultural potential, and kick-start growth?

This is what they had to say.

Wandile Sihlobo
Chief Economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz)

The agricultural sector does not need a new policy direction but only needs efficient leadership with a sharper focus on the implementation of the existing programmes and execution of responsibilities of the national and provincial level.

The Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan (AAMP) provides a useful framework for the agricultural leadership and specifies critical actions in key directorates that will provide a massive growth impetus to the sector:

  • Land reform – Immediately release the roughly 2,5 million hectares of land within the State Land Holding Account to beneficiaries.
  • Animal health – Ministerial Special Task Team report provides clear policy guidelines and action plans to implement.
  • Agricultural product standards – Address the practice of appointing assignees and their associated exorbitant costs.
  • Registrar for Act 36 – The delays and large backlogs in the Registrar’s office may slow SA’s agricultural productivity.
  • Agricultural exports – The inefficient ports and geopolitical tensions have raised concerns for exports.
  • Water – Ensure sensible collaboration with the Department of Water Affairs to improve the policy dispensation on irrigation water.
  • Statistics – Our statistics on agriculture across all subsectors are critical and our government will have to up its game here.

Vuka Chonko
Deputy General Secretary of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU)

Workers must benefit from local and international trade in the agricultural sector post elections.

On a local level: The state must implement existing programmes designed to protect jobs and grow our economy – such as master plans for poultry, agro-processing, sugar and even skills development in forestry. All these programmes have a clear framework to protect jobs in the agricultural sector at all levels. There should be a similar framework for cannabis.

On an international level: South Africa should expand its markets to other parts of Africa, which should include fast-tracking SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) requirements. There should be growth in exports, particularly in poultry. Where there is growth in exports, workers (especially farm workers) must be brought on board to benefit from positive spin-offs such as share ownership, increased salary scales, better working conditions, and even land equity-stakes for farm dwellers. We must export more cooked and processed foods to create decent jobs in our country.

The government must roll-out vaccination against all types of animal diseases in order to in order to retain a favourable position in exports and to avoid a reliance on importing food from other countries.

On a policy level: Agricultural policies should not limit the involvement of the state in implementation and monitoring. We must ensure that workers do not face job losses, that poor rural communities have access to the labour market, and that small-scale farmers have an opportunity to grow and integrate into the larger value chain.  

Izaak Breitenbach
General Manager: Broiler Organisation, South African Poultry Association (SAPA)

South Africa’s poultry industry is the second largest agriculture sector, and the largest employer. It is poised for exponential growth with the right support: Our farmers would greatly benefit from the compensation the government refuses to pay for the millions of chickens they have had to cull, as outlined in the Animal Disease control Act.

Approving the appropriate vaccine to ensure our flocks are not in danger, and that our market is better prepared to export can further bolster industry and economic growth.

Finally, basic service delivery (in the form of electricity and clean water) would serve to reduce overheads and offer many farmers – especially our smaller farmers – greater stability, making South Africa more food secure in the process.

Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding land reform, the lack of compensation for culling and the lack of basic service delivery is wreaking havoc on the industry.

Donald MacKay
CEO: XA Global Trade Advisors

To grow agriculture requires certainty. For as long as expropriation without compensation lingers as a stated government objective, we will see underinvestment in agriculture. The single biggest boost the next administration can give to the agricultural sector is to remove EWC from the South African lexicon.

Preferential (limited) trade agreements, focused purely on agriculture, with northern hemisphere (counter seasonal) regions like the middle east, China and India could yield significant benefits.