By Leuta Motlogelwa
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 16 (NNN-SABC) — South Africa produced it second highest volume of maize ever recorded last year on the back of good climatic conditions for the most part of the year.
A weaker Rand also helped agricultural exports, making 2014 one of the best years for many farmers across the country but the unresolved issue of land reform and restitution continues to haunt the sector which is hoping for even better fortunes in 2015.
The continued Rand weakness and current rains point to another potential bumper year for the agricultural sector. Agriculture contributes about 3.0 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and this is continuing to grow despite a drop in the number of farmers and a reduction in the planted area.
This is thanks largely to the use of technology and improving farming practices. “The market is opening up in China and the government has signed agreements that will assist us in those markets. The world is open for us to compete,” saiys Hans van der Merwe, the Executive Director of Agri South Africa (AgriSA), the agricultural industry association.
“The challenge is to be a dependable producer and in some respects there are question marks over that, if you have labour unrest that will have a negative impact on production and marketing, logistical arrangements, people have questions about that.”
Another issue that is holding back the sector is the land question. Signs that the government wants to fast-track the process of putting land in the hands of black people are giving commercial farmers sleepless nights.
Many are worried about the recent proposal by Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti that farmers redistribute 50 per cent of their land to farm workers.
“When we meet with farmers what they are saying is that not 50/50 but something that is doable. Because no one can deny the fact that land was not negotiated from black people,” says Minister of Agriculture Senzeni Zokwana.
“Thirteen per cent of land being available to 87 per cent of the population, addressing that will need to be managed, not only by not those who make noises, claiming that they can solve the problem tomorrow, but when farmers form part of the processes, we will find a solution.”
Small-scale farmers are also concerned about the land reform issue. The African Farmers’ Association of South Africa says the government must take decisive steps now that can resolve the issue once and for all. It says the uncertainty on the issue is also negatively affecting emerging black farmers.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture and farmer groups have welcomed the on-going drop in oil prices but it is unclear if the benefits will be passed onto the consumer through lower food prices.
“Agricultural costs will definitely go down and the logistical costs of distribution and processing will also have a positive effect due to this lower fuel cost, but it is not the only cost, you have wages, electricity and a number of other costs, so there may be other factors neutralising the positives, but at least this is a positive that can contribute toward sustaining prices to the most stable level,” said Van der Merwe.
Despite all its challenges, South Africa’s agricultural sector remains a leader on the African continent and a major surplus exporter of agricultural products. Many believe the sector will flourish even more and contribute immensely to the global goal of doubling food production by 2050 if it resolves its policy constraints.