Budget Vote Debate: A new approach to agriculture is needed to ensure food security

Roy Jankielsohn MPL

Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Provincial Legislature

Note: This is an extract of a speech delivered by the Leader of the Official Opposition, Roy Jankielsohn, during the Budget Votes debate in the Free State Provincial Legislature yesterday evening.

Deputy-Speaker, food security remains a serious concern for our people. Recent research carried out by Tshikululu Social Investments indicates that South Africa produces enough food for all our people, and yet “54% of our population is at risk of hunger, experience hunger or is food insecure”.

Our farmers manage to produce food under some of the most difficult circumstances and without the security and subsidies given to farmers abroad with whom local farmers have to compete.

Farming is not a project, it is a business. A business that requires skills, capital, infrastructure, land, and a great deal of endurance.

Most farmers in our country have bought their land, in most instances with loans from banks, and live in credit. Even the most skilled and experienced farmers struggle to make a living under an environment of uncertainty about property rights, an environment that benefits foreign imports above local produce, and one in which safety and security are a constant concern. Farming remains the most dangerous career in the country, even more dangerous than being an SAPS member.

In a recent article published in Food Security Journal, Ulrike Grote identifies various factors influencing food security. These include, among others:

  • Shortage of land and water,
  • Poor workforce in terms of education and health,
  • Climate change,
  • Population growth,
  • Changing diets and food quality,
  • High food prices,
  • Food trade, and
  • Lack of secure property rights.

Deputy-Speaker, land reform and property rights do not have to be mutually exclusive. Government is failing with land reform. Property rights remain insecure due to policy uncertainty. This affects food security.

A historic and comprehensive land audit undertaken by Free State Agriculture shows that land reform in the Free State has failed dismally, even though government has invested a great deal of money on this.

The audit indicated, among many other things, the following:

  • The Free State has received a mere 1.3% of the total restitution spending in the country to date, of which 76% was used for settling claims through financial compensation, with 10,6% spent on land acquisition and 13.3% on support grants. This shows that people want money, not land.
  • Only 12.4% of the land acquired or approved for acquisition has been transferred to beneficiaries.
  • 93.28% or 12 196 060.20 hectares of land in the Free State is used for farming.
  • 12 473 175.28 hectares, 86.39% of the agricultural land in the Free State is white owned.
  • Only 2.96% of land owned by white farmers in 1994 in the Free State is confirmed through the audit as now owned by black people. Only 1.71% has been acquired through the various permutations of the land reform program, while 1.25% has been acquired privately through the land market.
  • Foreigners own a paltry 0.24% of the agricultural land in the province.

These statistics indicate that a new approach is necessary to land reform and food security. The hundreds of millions of rands spent on failed agricultural projects by the provincial government is clearly not the answer to bring about redress to our people.

The answer is to support existing and new black farmers with sufficient infrastructure, capital, training and mentoring, and land ownership. We have many black farmers who have bought land with their own capital and only require support.

But, not the kind of support that the Department offers through implementing agents from other provinces who build infrastructure that looks good from the outside, but is totally impractical and unusable, as the former portfolio committee has seen in Frankfort with the construction of a sheep shearing shed. Also not continuously buying chickens and building additional chicken batteries in Matjhabeng for beneficiaries who have no support, business skills or training, and are subject to constant infighting.

Deputy-Speaker, we require partnerships between commercial and emerging farmers that includes skills transfers and capacity building and support.

We need to focus on food security partnerships, not political partition and rhetoric.