Agriculture cannot prosper if govt allows intellectual capital to emigrate, says Agri SA

Speaking during Agri SA’s annual general meeting (AGM) on October 14, outgoing president Pierre Vercueil highlighted how a defensive approach to land reform was of no help to anyone.

He referred to the various pieces of legislation being amended or instituted – including the Deeds Registries Amendment Bill, the Land Court Bill, labour tenancy claims and possibly Section 25 of the Constitution – and how it will not necessarily translate to inclusive growth, which has remained an issue since 1994.

Instead, he said, it was prudent that no one is excluded from the responsibility of transforming the agricultural industry.

“It is all good and well to go to court on matters of principle. The fact is we also have to find solutions to these questions,” Vercueil said, referring to land reform, inclusive growth and the transformation of the sector.

Vercueil said national government should focus on protecting agricultural operations and this entailed admitting that the knowledge of farming lies with farmers. Farms form the backbone of agricultural business and, therefore, government should aim to not create so much insecurity and uncertainty that all of agriculture’s intellectual capital is lost through emigration.

“We seem to be distracted by small politics, [instead of getting] to the answer of who’s responsibility [land reform] is. Why is everyone whipping up emotions and delivering little?

“Nobody can be happy about what we have today – uncertainty about property rights, poverty, food insecure communities, security problems and climate change.

“All these create a negative environment and we all agree on that. Let us get to agreeing on the how – how do we use the blended finance scheme, how do we make it possible for new farmers to enter agriculture, how do we change what must be changed, to not lose what we have?” he questioned.

Vercueil added that implementation should not be left to those who do not have the knowledge to make decisions and manage farms, and that private property rights are non-negotiable if South Africa hopes to achieve better economic growth.

He mentioned that family farm businesses were a crucial element of the industry, but the country was losing those much-needed expertise and skills amid the uncertainty over property rights and the lack of support for real solutions to industry challenges.

“A country with failed agriculture is also a failed State. Advocacy alone cannot solve the challenges. It is about shaping the future of agriculture.”

Speaking to land reform concerns, Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza assured the industry that government was considering how existing work by the agriculture industry could be harnessed and advanced, particularly initiatives where farmers were developing solutions to ensure access to land for historically marginalised individuals.

“We are ensuring that land reform does not create tensions and conflicts among stakeholders. We are focused on supporting those who are already on the land for them to succeed.”

Galileo Capital CEO Theo Voster, who led a panel on economics during the AGM, pointed out that, on the plus side, South Africa was nearing a more logical approach to the question of land expropriation without compensation.

He pointed out that talks around private sector ownership of assets such as property and even logistics assets had become more rational in recent months, compared with prior years.

“We are in an area where it is increasingly difficult to determine when we will be on an economic growth trajectory. From a planning point of view, businesses have to be made resilient against the State [whose functioning is causing additional risk to business prosperity]. You have to steel your business against the State and its impacts.

“Government is talking about private sector partnership models, which is indicative of a shift. The current thought process of partnerships and of private sector involvement, that is where great opportunity lies. The world is changing and a recognition is prevailing that the private sector is critical for the future. We need to embrace this kind of thinking,” said Voster.

In this regard, Didiza acknowledged the importance of strengthened partnerships between government and industry, especially as many major issues the industry was experiencing in 2020, remained.

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