Agriculture the anchor of the Free State economy

Roy Jankielsohn

Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Provincial Legislature:

 

The below speech was delivered by the Leader of the Official Opposition, Roy Jankielsohn (MPL), during the debate on the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill 2015/16 in the Free State Provincial Legislature today.

 

Speaker, the Free State has always been regarded as an agricultural province. This is not because of the agricultural sector’s contribution to the GDP of the province, but due to its above average contributions to food security, employment, and economic support to small towns and communities. Agriculture remains the anchor of the Free State.

 

The mining sector has shrunk, the manufacturing and retail sectors have stagnated, and the financial sector has probably reached its zenith in the province.

 

The provincial budget has proved that government, through a shrinking tax base and debt, cannot indefinitely carry the burden of an increasingly dependent population that it has created.

 

Our agricultural sector in the Free State, through organised agriculture, is probably one of the most progressive in the country. Their sympathy for government’s calls to employ more people several years ago were taken up by the Free State Agriculture congress.

 

Last year their President, Dan Kriek, proudly announced that while other provinces shed jobs due to increased minimum wages, the agricultural sector in the Free State heeded government’s call and created jobs.

 

Speaker, South Africa has a historical legacy that has created various challenges for the agricultural sector that require co-operative solutions.

 

The failure to effectively deal with these challenges has the potential to ultimately derail the progress that has been made since the country’s first inclusive democratic elections in 1994.

 

In this respect the transformation of land ownership in South Africa through various land restitution and land reform programmes remains a serious issue for which an amicable resolution is crucial for the future political stability of the country.

 

In his book “Feeding Frenzy”, Paul McMahon states that: “especially in Africa, land has cultural, sentimental and political meaning. It is a reminder of past dispossession, a symbol of present dignity and a source of future security.”

 

Zimbabwe looms on South Africa’s doorstep as a symbol of how both the politicisation of, and failure to manage, land issues negatively affects food security, employment, poverty and ultimately political stability.

 

South Africa’s National Development Programme (NDP) covers all areas of economic development including a rural development strategy with agricultural development that is: “based on successful land reform, employment creation and strong environmental safeguards.”

 

At their congress last year, Free State Agriculture outlined four principles that, in their view, are crucial to the transformation of land ownership, namely:

 

  1. De-racialising our rural economy.
  2. Democratic and equitable land allocation.
  3. Sustainable production discipline for food security.
  4. A long term goal of social cohesion and development. Development referring to shared growth and prosperity.

It is clear that the various role-players, namely those for whom land has sentimental and historical value, the government, and organised agriculture all want transformation of land ownership.

 

The common view that such transformation should; contribute to and expand job creation, contribute to food security, be sensitive to environmental issues, and bring about redress and equity in land ownership; appears to be shared by all who have an interest in agricultural land.

 

The process of developing policies to achieve this should be inclusive and requires strong, yet empathetic, political leadership. In this respect government should refrain from political rhetoric that does not contribute to an amicable solution to this issue, but rather serves to fuel emotions and perhaps even short term electoral objectives.

 

We must also remember that farming today is first and foremost a commercial enterprise that has to build our local economies, create jobs, and produce food.

 

The agricultural sector can also be expected to experience the full brunt of climate change due to global warming and will require a great deal of support in order to continue to provide food security and create and sustain employment.

 

The recent veldt fires that ran out of control due to excessive winds and dry grass, together with the current drought are examples of how climate change can impact on farming.

 

Government’s commitment to assist with the mitigation of the long term effects of this on this sector are valued by producers and consumers alike. The agricultural sector needs to recover its full production potential so that our people have South African food products on their tables.

 

Speaker, A critical assessment of state supported projects in the Free State needs to be carried out. Interventions must be developed in order to ensure that the province gets value for money in terms of any further investments in agricultural projects.

An evaluation of all existing projects needs to take place and assessed by professionals in order to determine their sustainability and on-going cost. The government cannot continue to throw money into unsustainable or high risk enterprises. It is also important that the financial inputs into such projects are balanced with the financial and social outputs.

Projects must be run on a business basis that creates independence in the short term instead of long term dependence on government support. Time frames and stringent conditions should be allocated to support in order to incentivise the need to become sustainable. Preference should be given to individuals who have invested their own capital into farming enterprises.

 

Speaker, agro-processing and bio-fuels could create an important long term economic injection into the province.

 

The Free State is known for exporting its agricultural products for packaging outside the province and then importing the same products again. This not only increases the cost of the product, but also contributes immensely to carbon emissions. Agricultural products should be processed in the province and then sold locally or exported to bring money into the province.

 

The agricultural sector does, however, depend on a sound transport infrastructure and any development in this sector will be closely linked to this. This is also as applicable to rural security. Both of these issues cost this sector a great deal of suffering, money, and inconvenience.

 

Speaker, I cannot end my speech without emphasising that the Department and FDC will have to carefully consider what it wants to achieve with the Vrede Dairy Project that was so hastily implemented.

 

In this respect, we note that the investment by the taxpayers has already reached about R200 million, that the appointment of Estina and the cancellation of their contract as both implementing agents and partners requires thorough investigation, and that only a partnership with the private sector who have the requisite skills and sound motives will save this project.

 

Speaker, the provincial government can no longer afford to throw large sums of money at projects that appear to benefit a few implementing agents and perhaps even some people in government.

 

In this respect we also need to scrutinize what our farmers get from implementing agents in general, and specifically with disaster relief funds. We are concerned that agents take the cream and our farmers only get skimmed milk

 

Note to Editors: The below speech was delivered by the Leader of the Official Opposition, Roy Jankielsohn (MPL), during the debate on the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill 2015/16 in the Free State Provincial Legislature today.

 

24 March 2015

Release: Immediate

 

Speaker, the Free State has always been regarded as an agricultural province. This is not because of the agricultural sector’s contribution to the GDP of the province, but due to its above average contributions to food security, employment, and economic support to small towns and communities. Agriculture remains the anchor of the Free State.

 

The mining sector has shrunk, the manufacturing and retail sectors have stagnated, and the financial sector has probably reached its zenith in the province.

 

The provincial budget has proved that government, through a shrinking tax base and debt, cannot indefinitely carry the burden of an increasingly dependent population that it has created.

 

Our agricultural sector in the Free State, through organised agriculture, is probably one of the most progressive in the country. Their sympathy for government’s calls to employ more people several years ago were taken up by the Free State Agriculture congress.

 

Last year their President, Dan Kriek, proudly announced that while other provinces shed jobs due to increased minimum wages, the agricultural sector in the Free State heeded government’s call and created jobs.

 

Speaker, South Africa has a historical legacy that has created various challenges for the agricultural sector that require co-operative solutions.

 

The failure to effectively deal with these challenges has the potential to ultimately derail the progress that has been made since the country’s first inclusive democratic elections in 1994.

 

In this respect the transformation of land ownership in South Africa through various land restitution and land reform programmes remains a serious issue for which an amicable resolution is crucial for the future political stability of the country.

 

In his book “Feeding Frenzy”, Paul McMahon states that: “especially in Africa, land has cultural, sentimental and political meaning. It is a reminder of past dispossession, a symbol of present dignity and a source of future security.”

 

Zimbabwe looms on South Africa’s doorstep as a symbol of how both the politicisation of, and failure to manage, land issues negatively affects food security, employment, poverty and ultimately political stability.

 

South Africa’s National Development Programme (NDP) covers all areas of economic development including a rural development strategy with agricultural development that is: “based on successful land reform, employment creation and strong environmental safeguards.”

 

At their congress last year, Free State Agriculture outlined four principles that, in their view, are crucial to the transformation of land ownership, namely:

 

  1. De-racialising our rural economy.
  2. Democratic and equitable land allocation.
  3. Sustainable production discipline for food security.
  4. A long term goal of social cohesion and development. Development referring to shared growth and prosperity.

It is clear that the various role-players, namely those for whom land has sentimental and historical value, the government, and organised agriculture all want transformation of land ownership.

 

The common view that such transformation should; contribute to and expand job creation, contribute to food security, be sensitive to environmental issues, and bring about redress and equity in land ownership; appears to be shared by all who have an interest in agricultural land.

 

The process of developing policies to achieve this should be inclusive and requires strong, yet empathetic, political leadership. In this respect government should refrain from political rhetoric that does not contribute to an amicable solution to this issue, but rather serves to fuel emotions and perhaps even short term electoral objectives.

 

We must also remember that farming today is first and foremost a commercial enterprise that has to build our local economies, create jobs, and produce food.

 

The agricultural sector can also be expected to experience the full brunt of climate change due to global warming and will require a great deal of support in order to continue to provide food security and create and sustain employment.

 

The recent veldt fires that ran out of control due to excessive winds and dry grass, together with the current drought are examples of how climate change can impact on farming.

 

Government’s commitment to assist with the mitigation of the long term effects of this on this sector are valued by producers and consumers alike. The agricultural sector needs to recover its full production potential so that our people have South African food products on their tables.

 

Speaker, A critical assessment of state supported projects in the Free State needs to be carried out. Interventions must be developed in order to ensure that the province gets value for money in terms of any further investments in agricultural projects.

An evaluation of all existing projects needs to take place and assessed by professionals in order to determine their sustainability and on-going cost. The government cannot continue to throw money into unsustainable or high risk enterprises. It is also important that the financial inputs into such projects are balanced with the financial and social outputs.

Projects must be run on a business basis that creates independence in the short term instead of long term dependence on government support. Time frames and stringent conditions should be allocated to support in order to incentivise the need to become sustainable. Preference should be given to individuals who have invested their own capital into farming enterprises.

 

Speaker, agro-processing and bio-fuels could create an important long term economic injection into the province.

 

The Free State is known for exporting its agricultural products for packaging outside the province and then importing the same products again. This not only increases the cost of the product, but also contributes immensely to carbon emissions. Agricultural products should be processed in the province and then sold locally or exported to bring money into the province.

 

The agricultural sector does, however, depend on a sound transport infrastructure and any development in this sector will be closely linked to this. This is also as applicable to rural security. Both of these issues cost this sector a great deal of suffering, money, and inconvenience.

 

Speaker, I cannot end my speech without emphasising that the Department and FDC will have to carefully consider what it wants to achieve with the Vrede Dairy Project that was so hastily implemented.

 

In this respect, we note that the investment by the taxpayers has already reached about R200 million, that the appointment of Estina and the cancellation of their contract as both implementing agents and partners requires thorough investigation, and that only a partnership with the private sector who have the requisite skills and sound motives will save this project.

 

Speaker, the provincial government can no longer afford to throw large sums of money at projects that appear to benefit a few implementing agents and perhaps even some people in government.

 

In this respect we also need to scrutinize what our farmers get from implementing agents in general, and specifically with disaster relief funds. We are concerned that agents take the cream and our farmers only get skimmed milk.