Citizen Reporter
6 minute read
30 Jun 2017
7:46 am

ANC policy conference must prioritise food security

Citizen Reporter

Successful entrepreneurial farming is at the heart of food secure countries.

The ANC’s fifth National Policy Conference Discussion Document on strengthening radical economic transformation is a frank, but equally ambivalent attempt to solve the myriad of economic challenges South Africa face.

While the focus is primarily on how to deal with land reform, development of small scale farmers, production, market access and bringing about rural development and job creation, very little is said about the achievements of entrepreneurial agriculture in this regard and how it secures not only food production and supply for our own citizens, but for our neighbouring countries and the international world as well.

South Africa today is recognised as one of the most food secure countries on the continent of Africa. Affordable, quality and plenty of food is available all over the country daily. This is largely due to the efforts of all entrepreneurial farmers regardless of ethnicity. The sector is deemed to be one of the most resilient and technologically advanced in the world.

Entrepreneurial agriculture creates up to 900 000 job opportunities annually. Moreover, it plays a critical role in keeping local economies going through labour remuneration amounting to R17 billion and expenditure on agricultural goods and services amounting to R133 billion in 2016. In addition, farming debt amounting to R144 billion in 2016 has shown exponential growth over the years and is an indication of the huge commitment by entrepreneurial farmers towards food production and ultimately to food security for all in South Africa.

The ANC’s Discussion Document on Economic Transformation seems to be oblivious to these facts and shows scant regard for the facts, achievements, goodwill, expertise, years of experience, transformation projects and viewpoints that entrepreneurial agriculture brings to the table.

While it emphasises the need to overcome unemployment, poverty and inequality by moving the South African economy onto a path of inclusive growth and employment creation, it fails to recognise the tremendous contribution by entrepreneurial agriculture in this regard. Instead it focuses on strengthening the role of the state to drive transformation, food production and ultimately food security.

Ambivalence certainly springs to mind and it begs the following questions.

By its own admission, the ANC acknowledges that a healthy rural economy has a very positive impact on employment, inequality, trade, poverty reduction and food security. In areas where entrepreneurial agriculture and related value chain activities have downsized and even stopped production, it soon resulted in more unemployment, poverty, hunger and dependence on state assistance. If this is the case, shouldn’t there be a concerted effort to create conducive circumstances that will lead to increased investment and expansion by the entrepreneurial agricultural sector in such areas which are now deemed to be poverty traps?

The ANC also admits that subsistence farming has contributed little to marketed produce and food security. In fact, research by Stats SA states that the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line are found in provinces where the highest levels of subsistence farming is occurring. If this is the case, shouldn’t there be targeted investment in creating more entrepreneurial farmers in these areas, instead of pursuing policies that may result in creating even more hardship such as the proposed one hectare, two cows policies by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform?

While one should appreciate the frankness that underscores the risks related to food security challenges, especially for the poor as outlined in the discussion document, we need to ask the question: why doesn’t the governing party place much more emphasis on what needs to be done to strengthen the role of the entrepreneurial agricultural sector in ensuring food security for all?

Instead, the emphasis is placed by the ANC on the state to drive land reform and agrarian transformation in order to fight poverty and to guarantee food security. And herein lies a big risk.

Pushing a political agenda at the expense of an economic agenda regardless of fiscal and human limitations often result in even more misery for ordinary citizens.

A critical analysis of reports focusing on the effectiveness and efficiency of a range of agricultural and land reform initiatives is a case in point. It doesn’t paint a very positive picture of state-led agricultural interventions.

The National Food and Nutrition Security Plan for example, states that South Africa’s social protection strategy and programmes are seriously constrained by a lack of coordination and integration of government systems, limited funding and significant deficit in human capacity and resources within key state institutions.

Research reports about programmes such as CASP, MAFISA and RECAP, which were specifically developed to support emerging black farmers, state that these programmes have not achieved sufficient progress in terms of ensuring sustainability and self-reliance. Nor did it sufficiently empower these farmers to significantly bring about food security and employment creation.

Explanations for this include poor project design, ineffective capacity building for farmers by strategic partners and mentors, limited outreach for financial services, low loan repayment rate, limited coordination in the implementation of the initiatives, limited decision-making power of beneficiaries, and lack of clear selection criteria for projects and farmers.

The ANC should realise that successful entrepreneurial farming is at the heart of food secure countries all over the world. In countries where governments want to govern and manage food production through centralisation and nationalisation, such state interventions inevitably lead to food shortages and even famine. Centralised economic models often give the power and control of food production to the political elite and politically connected who know very little about farming and who abuse their respective positions to enrich themselves through corrupt practices.

However, food production by entrepreneurial farmers instead requires hard work, discipline, personal drive and determination. They know that farming is a high-risk business and that the production of quality, affordable food and access to food demands a day to day hands-on and business savvy approach.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, a famous American Pastor, summed it up as follows: “No horse gets anywhere until it is harnessed. No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No waterfall is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, and disciplined.”

Entrepreneurially-orientated farmers know this too well. One can have all the land in the world and even all the equipment, but if entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial practicality lack, no sustainable food production will come about.

This is the clarion call that should be prioritised during the forthcoming ANC Policy Conference Prioritise.

Leverage the strengths of the entrepreneurial agricultural sector to ensure food security and prevent food shortage-related unrest due to large-scale hunger in South Africa. And treasure each and every entrepreneurial farmer regardless of ethnicity.

They are not the enemy but hunger, poverty and unemployment caused by ambivalent policies rooted in an ambivalent political culture are.

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