Agricultural Sector Needs Effective Solutions

Anthony Benadie MPL

Provincial Leader – Mpumalanga

The following is an address by Anthony Benadie to the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature during the debate on the Policy and Budget of the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration: Budget Vote 5

It is true that access to land and land ownership remains the key to addressing many of the imbalances that characterise the agricultural sector. It is true that the agriculture sector remains one of the largest economic and employment contributors to our provincial economy and holds enormous growth potential. It is true, that the agricultural sector is vital to creating jobs, increasing food security and eliminating poverty. Which is why the Democratic Alliance supports the budget before us.

However, what we do not support is the continuous inability of the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration to provide adequate support to emerging farmers through skills transfers that would lead to the establishment of sustainable, productive, commercial farming initiatives.

The Mpumalanga government has spent more than one billion rand over the past decade on acquiring land for restitution and land reform projects, yet today, not a single one of those projects are productive, with beneficiaries as poor and in many cases even poorer than they were, when the land was allocated to them.

In fact, government has failed emerging farmers so severely, that not a single one is productive enough to supply and stock the proposed fresh produce market proposed in the budget before us.

This is due to government’s sole focus on land ownership – to feed the ANC’s perverted political agenda – and to date, we have seen the ANC government exploiting the land ownership concept, without any focus on skills transfer, mentorships, project management or any measure required for productivity to protect our food security.

In this light, it goes beyond comprehension that R30 million is earmarked in the budget to acquire the land for the fresh produce market, yet, the R5 million feasibility study has not yet been completed. Furthermore, it is illogical that the department intends to purchase the land first and then conduct its environmental impact study, which begs the question, if the feasibility study has not yet been completed and an EIA has not been done, how does the department know which land to buy and how do you know it is going to cost government R30 million?

Honourable MEC, is your department blatantly corrupt or do you merely lack the skill of basic logic?

Our province holds some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world, and we possess some of the finest agricultural minds and some of the most skilled farmers. Our climatic conditions are perfect for a diverse range of farming activities and we are ideally placed to feed not only ourselves, but the rest of South Africa, and even the world. This, combined with a caring government armed with a budget of almost one billion rand, spells a recipe for the long-term sustainability and prosperity of the agricultural sector.

Yet this is not the case, instead emerging farmer projects are collapsing and jobs in the sector are being lost, while commercial farmers face rising uncertainty. At the same time, government’s inability to harness our agriculture potential has led to our province and country losing skilled farmers to other African nations, rendering our agriculture sector increasingly fragile and vulnerable, and the question we must ask is why?

Our agriculture sector is being held hostage by four things:

· An ineffective, uncommitted corrupt government administration, seeking every opportunity for self-enrichment, rather than community upliftment;

· Lack of skills transfers, lack of adequate capacity building and training and the absence of business principles in emerging farm projects;

· Unmanaged in-fighting and disagreements between land reform beneficiaries, bogus Communal Property Associations (whose sole purpose is to lay their hands on government grants), and in many cases, there are simply too many beneficiaries to be sustained by the same piece of land; and

· The continued security threat to all farmers and the absence of an effective rural security unit.

The DA believes that through addressing these aspects, we can empower emerging farmers, while bringing certainty to commercial farmers about their valued role and ensure the flourishing of our agricultural sector.

In conclusion, if the DA was in government, Mpumalanga agriculture

· Would be at the forefront of food production;

· We would establish mutually beneficial partnerships with commercial farmers and ensure sufficient skills development;

· We would empower farm workers through owner equity schemes;

· We would protect fertile ground from the perverted scourge of mining;

· We would embark on formal mentoring programmes and appoint project managers for emerging farming projects;

· We would ensure security of tenure and establish rural safety units;

· We would put an immediate stop to the political ball games the ANC plays with land;

· We would eliminate corruption; and

· We would be a government, caring and committed to exploiting the opportunities presented by this sector in order to create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and eliminate poverty.

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