Budget vote speech: Agriculture

The following speech was delivered by Anthony Benadie DA MPL, Leader of the Official Opposition, to the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature on 21 May 2015 during the Debate on the 2015 Budget of the Department of Agriculture, Vote 5.

There is a saying that goes: ‘One day in your life you may need a lawyer, one day you may need a doctor or ambulance, one day you may need an accountant or police officer, but every day you will need a farmer’.

If this is so, why has the agriculture sector become one of the most uncertain economic investment sectors, in our province and country? Given our human need to eat every day, fed by the produce of farmers, why is it so difficult for policy and decision makers to understand the challenges and difficulties facing the farming community?

And, given the job creating potential of this sector, why is it so easy for the ANC to turn the hands that feed the nation into a political punching bag?

Perhaps the answer lays in the repeated ANC policy failures in this regard. Policies where job creation, investment confidence, commercial production, poverty eradication and agriculture sector stability have not been the top priority, but rather opportunistic political self-interest by a party willing to compromise an entire sector in order to advance their divisive political agenda.

And while the ANC continues to play political ball game with Agriculture, opportunities of community upliftment, job creation and poverty eradication is being missed on a daily basis. Indeed, this department is struggling to capitalize on the opportunities of its own mandate.

The flip-flopping of the ANC on critical matters such as Land Reform, Land Claims, capping of Land Ownership and the constant playing of political mind games creating uncertainty of whether the ANC wants existing commercial farmers to succeed or not. As a result many existing farmers are reluctant to invest capital into their own businesses. With lower capital investments, comes fewer job opportunities.

Furthermore, while the MEC and ANC will boast about the success of the Masibuyele Emasimini programme, the transition of emerging farmers into the commercial market is happening at a snail’s pace, and this very programme is setting  emerging farmers up for failure.

It is incomprehensible that the department can give a farmer seeds to plant, fertilizer to fortify the soil and implements to work his fields at planting season, but when he requests the same implements for harvesting, assistance is denied.

This programme owns 375 tractors, of which only 289 are currently in use. In Dr JS Moroka Municipality, of the 4500 beneficiaries that requested assistance, the department has only been able to assist 2522 beneficiaries.

Of the 5300 hectares of land that needed ploughing, the department only managed to assist with 3 067 hectares. Effectively, it means that 1 978 beneficiaries were not assisted and 2 233 hectares of land was un-utilised in the previous farming season.

Hon MEC, apart from having the huge responsibility to ensure that food security in the province and the country is ensured, this department can change the lives of many people in this province, but then it must take its mandate seriously.

As leaders we must give commercial farmers the peace of mind that they are needed in our province, that their food production and expertise is needed to mentor and train emerging farmers and that through building strong partnerships we can secure our collective success.

We need land tenure security. Commercial farmers must have peace of mind that their land will not be nationalised, while at the same time the communal land system must be unlocked to give emerging farmers title deeds to empower them to begin building their businesses.

On our shoulders rest the ability to transform our Agriculture sector into one of the most productive, profitable and attractive investment destinations in the country. We can empower emerging farmers to enter the commercial market, we can create jobs and we can feed our nation.

If this department succeeds, it will be one of the biggest victories for South Africa since the dawn of democracy, but then we will need strong political leadership and less political games, stronger partnerships and the will to make it work.

I thank you.