Friday, 13 May 2022 11:36

SA's first agriculture master plan signed, though not everyone is satisfied.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

The master plan for the agricultural sector was signed and officially delivered to the minister of agriculture, Thoko Didiza, in parliament ahead of her budget speech on Thursday.

The master plan was signed with what can best be described as an uneasy consensus between farmers' organisations, labour representatives, the agribusiness sector and the government.

The master plan proposes to grow the sector's output by R32bn, or about 25%, by 2030. In 2021, the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry in SA contributed added value of nearly R129bn.

The African Farmers Association of SA (Afasa), an organisation that represents black farmers, threatened earlier this week that it would not sign off on the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan if certain concerns and proposals were not addressed in the final plan. However, the president of Afasa, MJ Mthembu, said that after last-minute engagements with the minister, the organisation decided that it would support the plan on the understanding that it is “just the initiation of a process" and not the finished product.

Their greatest concern is that the plan contains no defined targets on transformation in farming and agro-processing, Mthembu said.

For another farmers' organisations, the master plan goes too far on transformation. One of the organisations that represents mostly white commercial farmers, TLU SA, refused to support the plan, saying there are "aspects within the plan that we can go along with".

The TLU SA said it pointed out the danger of transformation in engagements with the department of agriculture, land reform & rural development, but in the final document many of the proposals are subject to transformation and "it is a very big and clear warning for agriculture's way forward".

"We are convinced that if we as an organisation sign off on the [master plan], we are abandoning every commercial farmer in the country — black and white — because we are putting them under pressure with the wrong kind of policy development that will inevitably result from this, because the ANC makes everything ideological instead of economically and with this we have a very big problem," said Bennie van Zyl, GM of TLU SA.

The process to develop the plan was launched in June 2020, Didiza said. It involved stakeholder negotiations focused on creating policy certainty for an investor-friendly environment, improving food security, providing farmer support, investing and maintaining critical infrastructure, reducing imports and improving localised food production, and supporting market expansion and promoting trade.

The resulting plan is a social compact geared at creating a globally competitive sector which is inclusive.

Didiza noted that developing the plan was not easy, given the various interests of the different stakeholders.

"Each constituency would like to make sure that its position and interest, including the wording of proposals, are reflected in the document … Even in this process, negotiations have resulted in a minimum programme which is not satisfactory to all parties," said Didiza.

The minister said that matters still require further engagement among parties.

"We want a process that is inclusive and, therefore, we have to endeavour to find one another … This document we have in front of us today is a living document and as such we must accept that time and again changing conditions will demand of us to be responsive," said Didiza.

Social protection of farm workers was a particular sticking point. "I am aware that certain constituencies still want to persuade one another on those matters that they feel strong about, particularly the issue of social protection of farm workers," said Didiza.

Following the signing, there will be a process to unpack the delivery of some of the measures, such as transformation schemes to be pursued through public-private partnerships and labour forums to address conditions of labour. Other outstanding matters to be addressed relate to infrastructure, financing, other labour issues and specific aspects of transformation.

The "unfulfilled concerns" of social partners will be considered during the next round of negotiations focused on implementation and bolstering transformation aspects, the department noted in a statement.

The government is committed to creating enabling legislation and policies and supporting inclusive agricultural growth, the minister said.