New opportunities beckon for agriculture, says Saai about new cabinet

Saai welcomes the appointment of John Steenhuisen as Minister of Agriculture and argues that a spirit of excitement and expectation is already noticeable in the agricultural industry in response to this appointment. This family farming network is hopeful that the new administration will also bring exciting new opportunities for farmers.

The profitability and sustainability of farming, and especially competitiveness on international markets, is to a large extent directly dependent on an agriculture-friendly policy environment and efficient service delivery.

According to Saai, Steenhuisen’s appointment brings the prospect of increased efficiency in the Department of Agriculture which, among other things, will benefit commercial agriculture. His appointment raises hopes that the narrow ideological emphasis on race and party-political loyalty that has characterised Department of Agriculture appointments, policy and output for decades will now be a thing of the past.

The excessive emphasis on transformation in the Agricultural Master Plan, while profitability, sustainability and efficiency are not even mentioned, will be taken up with the minister early on with a view to adjustments. A more inclusive master plan – which puts profit and sustainability above racial targets – can lay a good foundation for a new era in agriculture.

Dr Theo de Jager, Executive Director of Saai, argues that several issues in the agricultural sector will require the new minister’s urgent attention. “The animal industries are under unprecedented pressure and every livestock farmer is concerned about the state of animal health and the role Onderstepoort and the department’s inefficiency play in it. It would benefit the minister to have an inclusive working group session with livestock farmers as soon as possible to identify the gaps and opportunities for recovery, development and performance and involve more than just the ANC’s traditional naysayers,” explains De Jager.

The ministries of Trade, Industry and Competition, Environmental Affairs, Transport, Land Reform and Rural Development, as well as Water and Sanitation, are also extremely important for the success of agriculture and therefore Saai also emphasises the urgency of changes in these departments.

“A turnaround strategy for infrastructure such as railway lines, stations and ports are low-hanging fruit and that can already make a big difference for farmers in the short term. However, Barbara Creecy, the new Minister for Transport, will have to tackle the task with greater determination than she did with Environmental Affairs,” says De Jager.

Meanwhile, Saai has undertaken, together with like-minded network partners who have never been at peace with the application of requirements for black economic empowerment (BEE) to family farms, to continue the fight against this policy with the newly appointed Minister of Trade and Industry, Parks Tau. According to De Jager, Tau owes family farmers a blueprint of how BEE can be applied in a family without getting stuck in a moral quagmire.

Likewise, the appointment of Mzwanele Nyhontso as Minister of Land Reform and Rural Development does not bring an end to Saai’s series of court cases regarding the disclosure of the list of outstanding land claims, but both the new and the previous ministers will still be held responsible for it. The case that Johannes Bezuidenhout and his co-beneficiaries of the state’s redistribution program in Beaufort West won this week against the previous minister and senior officials of her department, is one of dozens of similar cases where cadre favouritism derails the creation of a class of profitable black farmers. Saai’s cases to also protect black family farmers against state abuses are simply now being served on a new minister as well.

In Environmental Affairs, the long-standing battle between the interests of wildlife in conservation areas and wildlife that has been bred, farmed and commercialised may now probably come to an end. The wildlife industry, which uses 20% of South Africa’s farm area, has long been the victim of poor policy decisions and the stepchild of the Department, even though it is the most competitive in the world. A discussion between Minister Dion George and organised agriculture about the growth opportunities in the wildlife and nature industries is of crucial importance.

“Despite the possibilities that now beckon for the industry, farmers still understand that a government of national unity is a weaker form of government and are therefore ready to still fulfil many of the state’s functions themselves. However, it is difficult to do the state’s work without a state’s income. Therefore, better management and oversight in key departments will be able to bring great relief,” concludes De Jager.