It’s not in my nature to give publicity to people who do not deserve it. But when it comes to the South African commercial farming community and the fact that they are increasingly finding themselves under fire, I’ll make an exception.
Last year the ANC Youth Leader, Julius Malema, said in Zimbabwe that his party would unleash Zimbabwean tactics on white South African farmers to get rid of them. He likened these farmers to Western imperialism and sang “Kill the Boer”.
What makes the infamous youth leader’s statements and song noteworthy is that without the farmer, the masses in this country will not only go hungry, they will also die. If you kill the commercial farmer, you will kill your own people. It’s a fact.
In this country every commercial farmer feeds 1 600 people, but in the rest of Africa a commercial farmer only feeds 26 people. Here in South Africa commercial farmers are feeding 50 million people per day, earning R46 billion per year. They are ensuring food security for Southern Africa and are playing a major role in the national- and regional economy.
Why then, would the government go out of its way to threaten the livelihood of the South African commercial farmer with labour legislation, ill thought-out land reform and increasing land taxes? Added to this, farm murders, theft and lawlessness is causing farmers to doubt their future in this country.
At the recent South African Agriculture Union conference in Somerset West, Charles Senekal of Pongola told farmers there was ample opportunity for them to farm in the rest of Africa. We have seen this trend before where farmers go off and make a success in neighbouring countries.
Senekal revealed that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was prepared to give 70 000 hectares of land to 200 foreign farmers; Mozambique now offers 70 000 hectares to at least 800 farmers; Ghana has 600 000 hectares available to 300 potential farmers; Zambia is ready to dish out 60 000 hectares to 40 farmers; and South Sudan has 100 000 unfarmed land, ready to be cultivated.
Can we then blame a serious commercial farmer for thinking of moving to another African state where he will be welcomed, while his own government is going out of its way to make things harder for him? I can’t. I can only ask him to be loyal to his country and his people.
What should our own Ministry of Agriculture be doing to ensure we keep our farmers and build on our own food security?
Firstly, the government needs to acknowledge that South Africa’s commercial farmers have built up loads of experience over hundreds of years, passed from one generation to the next. These skills cannot be replaced or bought. It needs to be protected.
Secondly, agricultural colleges need to be empowered financially and structurally to train a new generation of emerging farmers to build food security along with the existing stock of commercial farmers.
Thirdly, this government must investigate a system where newly qualified agriculture students can work on existing commercial farms in a practical year to afford them the opportunity to hone their knowledge and skills. The details of this can be worked out between the organised farming community, education institutions and the government.
As far as encouraging commercial farmers to take the initiative to develop emerging farms and -farmers is concerned, government should give tax rebates to farmers who are willing to take on these endeavours. Joint ventures between established commercial farmers and emerging farmers are the best way to grow this initiative. But it will not happen if the government does not create the environment or make it worth their while financially.
If a farmer wants to transform his farming business into a public company, government should empower labourers with the knowledge and loans to buy shares and become part of the business. Only then will everybody share in the profits of agriculture, will we be able to work towards infinite food security and will we prevent our existing farmers from packing their tractors and crossing our borders to turn the fields of the rest of Africa.
Pine Pienaar, MPL
DA Spokesperson on Agriculture
Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, Bhisho