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Africans show the way with a new vision for agriculture

(UN Year of family Farming- By Dr Roger Leakey is the Vice Chairman of the International Tree Foundation, UK)

Despite successes, rampant hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Africa revolve around land degradation and rural poverty. Solutions require rehabilitating degraded farmland and developing a new source of income for farming households.

Despite the successes of the Green Revolution we still have rampant hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Africa. It seems we still have not learnt that hunger, malnutrition, poverty and many of the other things on our ‘to-do’ wish list are part of a bigger and inter-related complex of issues that revolve around land degradation and rural poverty. A solution, I believe, has to address these issues by rehabilitating degraded farmland (which today affects 38% of agricultural land), as well as developing a new source of income for farming households. In Cameroon, smallholder family farmers have made great progress in this direction.

Let’s start by looking at why we have not made better progress towards solving Africa’s agricultural problems. Maybe it is to do with the size and complexity of all the interacting factors impacting on the lives of people scattered across numerous sectors and strata of society. Additionally, the ‘development’ agenda is very multi-disciplinary and is partitioned between rural and urban situations. Furthermore, it requires some detailed understanding of biophysical and socio-economic issues best addressed within holistic integrated rural development programmes. Unfortunately, however, we live in a world where problems and solutions are confined to disconnected silos. How to proceed is also influenced by the very different perspectives of people depending on whether they are looking at the issue from industrial or the least developed countries.

Land degradation and rural poverty

Many of the problems arising from poverty in urban areas of least developed countries stem from inward migration from the countryside, thus central to making progress across all the development targets is tackling the root causes of land degradation and rural poverty. The biggest issue in the rural tropics is that actual crop yields are well below the yield potential of modern varieties (this difference is called the Yield Gap). The reasons for this are complex. First, there is the crippling decline of soil fertility and a loss of agroecological functions. This results in land degradation and the loss of biodiversity above- and below-ground. This is then exacerbated by persistent high levels of poverty which deny farmers access to modern technologies, such as fertilisers and other agricultural inputs. Consequently we have billions of marginalised people, many of them farming households, trapped in poverty and suffering from malnutrition, hunger and poor health. They also lack access to clean water, medical and other social services, and opportunities for education and employment – indeed all the things highlighted by the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Closing the yield gap

To try to get a better understanding of the issues in rural Africa, staff of the World Agroforestry Centre asked farmers in Cameroon what they would like to see from agriculture. This was twenty years ago. Their illuminating and unexpected request was for the chance to reintroduce and cultivate the indigenous trees from which they used to gather fruits, nuts, leaves, medicinal products etc. when they were hunter-gatherers before the destruction of forests and woodlands. The response to this request has led to a multi-disciplinary innovation to address the complex set of issues driving the downward spiral of land degradation and social deprivation in which land degradation drives poverty and poverty drives land degradation. This is the cause of the Yield Gap. To close this Yield Gap it is necessary to reverse the downward spiral by rehabilitating the land and creating a source of income. In simple terms, this involves a 3-step approach, which can easily be adapted to the needs of different sets of biophysical and socio-economic situations found in different locations.

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation involves restoring the ecological health of the farming system to address declining yields and to promote food security by ensuring the proper functioning of the agro-ecosystem (Step 1). Central to this agro-ecological approach, is the diversification of farming systems with a wider range of crops (the planned biodiversity), which create niches for numerous natural organisms (the unplanned biodiversity) that are vital for the completion of complex food chains and the closure of numerous interactive life cycles. These, together with nutrient, carbon and water cycling, perform nature’s ecological balancing tricks that ensure the proper functioning of the agro-ecosystem to address declining yields.

In Cameroon, the farmers said they wanted to grow the indigenous fruits and nuts that they used to gather from the forest. Diversifying the farm with these local tree species has many ecological advantages, but, even more importantly their products are also highly nutritious and marketable, as well as being traditionally and culturally important. These species also have large tree-to-tree genetic variation which offers enormous potential for the simple, inexpensive and rapid development of horticultural cultivars with superior quality and commercial potential. The domestication of these species is (Step 2) and it is being done successfully in participatory mode by the farmers within their family farms.

The final step is to commercialise and promote local cottage industries adding value to these products (Step 3). As a result of this third step it is becoming clear that, in addition to getting farmers onto the bottom rung of the ladder out of poverty, men and women in villages and small towns are setting up small businesses and cottage industries to process tree products for wider markets. This occurs as part of an integrated rural development programme that is introducing access to micro-finance and a range of training programmes. This is creating business and employment opportunities in value-adding that lift communities out of poverty. An important ‘take-home message’ from this is that while agro-ecological approaches to farming can substantially enhance food security, it is the addition of commercialisation which provides the incentive for further diversification and which lifts small family farmers out of poverty.

The ‘Trees of Life’

The second step, mentioned above, is crucial in solving Africa’s problems and it is one where Africa has enormous untapped potential. It is also where great progress is being made. The World Agroforestry Centre, together with other research teams around the world, has developed a participatory approach engaging local communities to domesticate these ‘Trees of Life’ using appropriate village-based technologies which can be implemented by poor farmers in remote villages around the tropics. This process and how it addresses big global issues is the subject of a book by this article’s author. The trees are also of course long-lived perennial plants that sequester carbon both in their biomass, in the soil and in other vegetation.

Albeit on a small scale (around 10,000 farmers over 500 villages), the results of this initiative in Cameroon have been spectacular and the integration of these trees in local farming systems has acted as a catalyst for the stimulation of social, economic and environmental benefits – a list too long to present here, except to say that lives are improving and the average income from community nurseries has risen from US$145, US$16,000, and US$28,350 after two, five, and ten years, respectively. One consequence of this is that some youths have decided to stay in the community rather than seek urban employment because they can see a future in their villages. These benefits are addressing many of the constraints arising from the failure of modern agriculture – malnutrition, poverty and environmental degradation, including climate change. These are the same constraints that are responsible for the loss of productivity, the global food crisis and hunger in nearly half of the world population.

The most innovative thing about this approach is that it is based on a request by poor marginalised African farmers who are struggling to survive by scratching a living from seriously degraded farmland while living outside the cash economy and so without the money to take advantage of modern technologies. Their illuminating and unexpected request for the chance to reintroduce and cultivate the indigenous trees producing fruits, nuts, leaves, and medicinal products has actually identified the key which unlocks the Rural Development Syndrome (relief from hunger, malnutrition, poverty, social injustice, environmental degradation and loss of ecological services). A list of 12 lessons from this study was presented at a recent Food and Agriculture Organization workshop on Food Security in Rome. This is based on the delivery of Multifunctional Agriculture to simultaneously rehabilitate degraded farmland and diversify poor smallholder farming systems with the types of indigenous species that the farmers in Cameroon were looking for. These principles point the way to integrated rural development through the sustainable intensification of tropical agriculture, rural business development for economic growth, and enhanced well-being for billions of marginalised people.

Hopefully, “a new Eden is around the corner” if we put our minds to it and put our money where our mouths are. This could be the “kick-off” to a match were we start scoring many of the Post-2015 Development Goals through an explosion in sustainably intensified family farming in Africa and beyond.

GREAT INSIGHTS: Issue 1, Vol 3, p. 15-17 – Published by European Centre for Development Policy Management (ecdpm). Thematic focus: FAMILY FARMING AND FOOD SECURITY

History on Madiba’s side – he was the right man for SA

By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP

This week, a nation mourns. In a special Joint Sitting on Monday, South Africas
representatives in Parliament paid tribute to Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela, South
Africa’s first democratically elected President.


I observed that Mandela’s passing closes a chapter in our
history. This chapter will be remembered as one of struggle, of freedom and of
great transformation. Yet this chapter was only the preface, pointing towards the
story that is yet to come.

As we continue to write the story of South Africa, I hope that Mandela’s legacy
will inspire us and perhaps even return us to the right path when we begin to
stray. We must remember his passion for reconciliation, his capacity for
forgiveness and his bold leadership.

These are still needed in our country, perhaps more so now as we move further
away from the moment of political liberation. This generation, and the next,
have no personal recollection of the struggle we endured.
We can therefore not assume that prejudice and disunity could never darken our
door again. History has a way of repeating itself, unless its lessons are
learned, assimilated and remembered. As we remember Nelson Mandela, let us
remember his reasons for saying, “I will continue fighting for freedom until the
end of my days.”

Nelson Mandela gave his life to the struggle for freedom. He gave 27 years for
the sake of South Africa’s political freedom, and 67 years for our freedom from
the bonds of poverty, inequality, racial discrimination and disunity. He was the
right man for an appointed time in history; to take South Africa across the
threshold of liberation. Yet he remained humble.

I was privileged to maintain a friendship with Mandela that spanned more than
six decades. We met as young men, in the fifties, when Mandela played draughts
with my father-in-law at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre in Eloff Street. He was a
brave young man, full of passion and promise. Over dinners in his home we
discussed sports, music, family and politics.

Throughout his incarceration, Mandela and I corresponded, at times through my
wife, Princess Irene. His last letter to me, just before his release, expressed
deep anxiety over the violence that was raging between the ANC and IFP, ignited
by the ANCs Peoples War. He wanted to meet with me immediately upon his release,
but for a full year was pressurised against it by ANC leaders.

The armed struggle, and Inkatha’s refusal to engage it, had driven a wedge
between our organisations. Propaganda against me and Inkatha was rife and there
were many attempts on my life.

When Mandela addressed the United Nations Security Council and referred to the
IFP as a surrogate of the apartheid regime, I took it that the same people who
had prevented him from meeting with me had drafted his remarks. It did not stop
our friendship. Much later, in April 2002, Mandela finally admitted, We have used every
ammunition to destroy [Buthelezi] and we failed. He is still there. He is a
formidable survivor.

Mandela sought reconciliation. That was evident through his leadership in the
first five years of democracy. When he announced his Cabinet on the 11th of May
1994, I became South Africa’s first Minister of Home Affairs under a democratic
government. This was based on the electoral support received by the IFP in 1994,
when more than two million South Africans voted for the IFP.

The Interim Constitution made provision for a Government of National Unity,
whereby any party receiving more than 10% of the vote would participate in
Cabinet. Thus I had the privilege of serving South Africa alongside President
Mandela, and serving as Acting President of South Africa on more than 20
occasions.

When Mandela left the Presidency in 1999, our friendship remained intact. He and
Mrs Graca Machel invited me to the wedding of Madiba’s step-daughter in
Mozambique, and I spent an afternoon with him at the Nelson Mandela Foundation
to celebrate my 80th birthday.

I know that the need for reconciliation still weighed heavily on his heart, as
it does on mine. Unfortunately, Mandela was prevented time and time again from
acting on his convictions. He was a remarkable leader, but not a sovereign, and
few within the leadership of the ANC shared his commitment to reconcile with
past opponents.

It would be a fitting tribute to Nelson Mandela for the unresolved issue of
reconciliation with the IFP to be broached by the ANC of today. We cannot honour
Madiba’s legacy without taking up his passion and adopting his mission. The
liberation he fought for must encompass freedom from the wounds of the past
committed not only by minority against majority, but by brother against brother.

In memory of Nelson Mandela, I pray that that is where our story will lead.

icon World Food Day: Rural women work hardest

Women in rural areas spend more time than urban women and men in reproductive and household work, and this includes time spent fetching water and fuel, caring for children and the sick, and processing food. This is because of poor rural infrastructure and services as well as culturally assigned roles that severely limit their participation in employment opportunities.

Mrs Mirriam Nchoe on her 5hectare vegetable garden

Mrs Mirriam Nchoe on her 5hectare vegetable garden

 

According to the global body, UNESCO about 80 percent of the 67 million children out of school live in rural areas, the majority of whom are girls. Young girls from poor rural households are the least likely of any social group to be in school or to ever gain access to education.  This holds back progress towards development targets and prevents rural economic growth. Improving education for women and girls in rural areas is a central issue both for achieving gender equality and for poverty eradication.

Against this background in Mahikeng (North West), Ms Mirriam Nchoe, started growing few vegetables on a 1 hectare plot in 2007, and after expanding the production area to 5 hectares, she now feeds the communities in her area with quality cabbage, spinach, carrots, onions, beetroot, tomatoes, green pepper, chillies and sweet potatoes. Nchoe who is from Phitshane, a village outside  in the Ngaka Modiri Molema district, says she took a stance to be a provider of nutritious food after realising that the rate of unemployment was high and that the standard of living among her fellow villagers was low.

Without any formal training on vegetable production, Mrs Nchoe relied on the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Agricultural Extension Officers for guidance, and she says this has helped her. She explains that the identification of crops suitable for the soil type in her area as the first step performed by the Department, which paved the way for her to be amongst the best vegetable producers in the District.

“While local communities and those from the neighbouring villages were initially my targeted market, I have managed to make a way into the retailers’ market, as I am now selling my produce at Mafikeng Spar and Boxer Supermarket. I am also a regular seller at the periodic Mahikeng Farmers Market where I am able to establish contact with potential clients”, explains Mrs Nchoe.

As a way of giving back to the community that supports her, Nchoe donates vegetable packs to the local pre-school where each child takes a pack home, at the pensions’ pay-point, and the local clinic.

Women can do higher yields

According to studies on average, women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Evidence indicates that if these women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, raising total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, in turn reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development provided, Nchoe with a water tank and a net fence to protect her crops from birds and bad weather. Key to her future plans is to have an irrigation system that will cover the whole garden and to employ more labourers, especially women and youth. She is currently working with two local women.

“As the world celebrates October as Food Security month, it is through women such as Nchoe that the vision of increasing the understanding of problems and solutions in the drive to end hunger will be better achieved”, said MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development in the North West, Ms Desbo Mohono.

The national commemoration of the annual World Food Day will be hosted by the North West Province on Wednesday, 16th October, at the Mmabatho Stadium.

Bonolo Mohlakoana

icon Heifer International SA helps a family

By Claire Hawkridge

“It has changed a lot!” said Bulelani Elizabeth Ndlovu (49), describing the change in her family since she joined Heifer’s Thusanang Dairy project. “It’s now a normal household because my husband and I were going to get divorced but now he sees how dedicated I am with working with Heifer and how my business is growing with so many vegetables in the garden and my husband just started being normal and understanding.” Bulelani, like so many poor, rural women, struggled to keep her family together in the face of poverty, hunger and unemployment. Now she is able to produce her own vegetables and sell them to earn money, as well as providing healthy food for the family every day.

Heifer International South Africa (Heifer) is a community development organisation that works with poor, rural families to end poverty and hunger in South Africa and care for the Earth. Through training, hands-on support and gifts of livestock, seeds and trees, Heifer helps poor families begin farming successfully, both to grow their own food and to earn an income. Each member of a Heifer project also helps another family by Passing on the Gift® – donating the first offspring of his or her animal, sharing training and supporting other families to begin farming more effectively.

Bulelani joined the Thusanang Dairy project in Hebron Village, near the town of Matatiele, Eastern Cape Province, at the beginning of 2013. In just six months, she has seen many changes. The project began by training Bulelani and other project members on vegetable gardening. Bulelani immediately went home and set up her garden. “In terms of vegetables, we did not know about organic farming. We used to use chemicals on our gardens not knowing that we were endangering our lives but now I am able to use organic methods to fertilize my soil and control pests,” Bulelani said. Because she did not have enough space to grow all the vegetables she wanted to, Bulelani also created two tower gardens – a special type of garden that allow you to grow different kinds of vegetables in a small space. A tower garden is also a great way to conserve water.

Planting a garden was just the start for Bulelani. Her involvement in the project gave her confidence and soon she started her own business, selling vegetables and chickens. Now Bulelani earns her own money – bringing in approximately R1800 per month. The family also saves money because they eat vegetables from their garden instead of having to buy them. Since joining the project, Bulelani has been working hard to improve her family’s life by improving their home. “I have bought cement and started to build a new house and since I joined the project I have bought saucepans,” she said.

Through Bulelani’s hard work with the project, her children’s lives are also beginning to change. Her daughter, Ntombizonke (17) is in grade 11. “After joining Heifer, my daughter Ntombizonke gained interest in agriculture and she wants to pursue a career in agriculture,” Bulelani said.

Her son, Mongezi (26) told Heifer, “Since I started attending trainings I have learnt a lot. The Cornerstones worked wonders in my life. Also in the vegetable farming, I did not know about the planting season but through trainings I have more knowledge than before. I am currently not working but I believe that this project is a great opportunity for me. I will work hard and my future plan is to have my own farm one day.”

Bulelani’s family is growing stronger and closer together every day, thanks to her hard work and the skills and support she received from Heifer. She said, “I am very happy that Heifer came into our community, you have taught us a lot. Especially the Cornerstones, they are able to change a person; now we care for each other and love one another.”

icon Benefits of accessions for South Africa

The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) is an inter-governmental organisation responsible for the management of southern bluefin tuna. Southern bluefin is a highly sought after tuna species, which was heavily over-fished in the 1980s and 1990s. CCSBT has in recent years reduced the Total Allowable Catch and stringent conservation and management measures were implemented in order to rebuild this resource. South Africa is one of only four countries co-operating with CCSBT that has this species occurring within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but at present South Africa is only a Co-operating Non-contracting Party with a 40 t quota.

If South Africa were to accede to CCSBT it would benefit the country in the following ways:

  1. South Africa would be granted an automatic increase of 150 t for 2014;
  2. South Africa as a Contracting Party to CCSBT would have voting rights at the Commission and would be in a stronger position to negotiate further equitable increases in its national allocation and would be in a position to table proposals on how this international resource should be managed;
  3. South Africa would be fully able to utilise its rights as a range state in fishing for southern bluefin;
  4. Southern bluefin is the most valuable finfish species occurring in South African waters, and a more equitable quota would serve to fast track the development of South Africa’s tuna fisheries from a current R150 million per annum fishery to a possible R600 million fishery, making it the third most important South African fishery after the hake and small pelagic fisheries;
  5. As almost all tuna species are exported this would mean that South Africa would derive much needed foreign revenue;
  6. Greater access to southern bluefin would also encourage investment in the fishery and would provide a great incentive for foreign flagged long-line vessels to reflag to South Africa, and;
  7. Ultimately, this would lead to an increase in employment from around 500 to 1 000 jobs in this sector and the quality of employment would also improve as more permanent jobs can be created.

IOTC

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is responsible for the management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean. South Africa straddles the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, and in recent years most of South Africa’s tuna longline fishing effort has shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean where the catch rates are higher. Despite the importance of the Indian Ocean as a tuna fishing ground, South Africa has remained a Co-operating Non-contracting Party to IOTC since 2003. As tuna resources are limited and international fishing interests are growing the IOTC has recently been conducting a number of workshops to develop criteria for country allocations.

If South Africa were to accede to IOTC it would benefit the country in the following ways:

  1. South Africa as a Contracting Party to IOTC would have voting rights at the Commission and would be in a stronger position to negotiate equitable national allocations and would also be in a position to table proposals on how to manage the tuna and tuna-like resources of the Indian Ocean;
  2. South Africa would be fully able to utilise its rights as a range state in fishing for tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean;
  3. Full access to the Indian Ocean resources would serve to develop the fishery by encouraging investment and reflagging of foreign longline vessels;
  4. Full access to the Indian Ocean would assist in growing the sector. This is one of the few South African sectors that has a great potential for fast growth;
  5. Ultimately, this would assist to increase employment from around 500 to 1 000 jobs in this sector and the quality of employment would improve as more permanent jobs can be created, and;
  6. Membership of IOTC would also promote cooperation with other SADC member states like Mozambique, Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania and Kenya.

PSMA

The primary aim of the FAO’s Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) is to develop a network of like-minded port states to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing is estimated to be costing Africa millions of US$ in potential revenue per annum and is regarded as the single largest threat to the sustainable management of fisheries. IUU fishing is also known to ignore safety regulations and is well known for violations against human rights. South Africa is the busiest port state in the region. In some years almost a 1 000 port visits are made by foreign fishing vessels that are fishing in close proximity to South Africa. It was also known internationally that a number of IUU vessels have used South African ports in the past. Consequently, South Africa has made large strides since 2007 to implement port state measures to close our ports to IUU fishing.

If South Africa were to accede to PSMA, it would benefit the country in the following ways:

  1. South Africa would be seen internationally as a responsible port state that stands united with other port states to stamp out the scourge of IUU fishing;
  2. South Africa has already implemented many elements of the PSMA and by acceding to the agreement would give South Africa’s implementation measures a more formal framework;
  3. Chances of illegally caught fish products to enter the market via South African ports would be diminished;
  4. South Africa would contribute to sustainable fisheries practices, which would benefit our own nationals depending on the same resources, and;
  5. As a developing country South Africa could request assistance from the FAO to strengthen our measures.

Membership fees and associated costs

CCSBT

As a member of CCSBT South Africa that would be required to pay annual membership fees. The fees are based on Australian dollars and determined by a formula. The annual fees could range between R750 000 to R1 000 000 depending on exchange rates and the amount of quota allocated. South Africa would also be expected to participate in the meetings of the CCSBT. Currently South Africa is only participating in the annual Compliance and Commission meetings.

IOTC

As a member of IOTC South Africa that would be required to pay annual membership fees. The fees are based on US dollars and determined by a formula. The annual fees are estimated at R350 000 depending on exchange rates and the amount of quota allocated. South Africa would also be expected to participate in the meetings of the IOTC. Currently South Africa is only participating in the annual Scientific, Compliance and Commission meetings.

PSMA

There is no annual membership fees associated with the PSMA. However, South Africa would be expected to fully implement the PSMA, which would incur operational costs. South Africa is already implementing most of the provisions of the PSMA and hence further operational costs are expected to be minimal.

For enquiries please contact:
Desmond Stevens
Acting Director-General: Fisheries
Tel.: (021) 402 3098
Cell: 082 072 9396

icon North West vegetable farmer aims for DAFF award By Bonolo Mohlakoana

Kerotse Rampou (28) from Pheela village in the Moses Kotane West Local Municipality says growing vegetables and feeding the nation is what she loves most. She started planting vegetables on a 1.5 hectares backyard plot in 2009, and has through her firm interest in farming, managed to put a further 15 hectares under vegetable production.

Last year she signed a three-year lease agreement with the local Community Property Association (CPA), to use these hectares for agricultural production. As the owner of Motswereng Fruit and Vegetables, Rampou produces cabbage, spinach, onions, beetroot, carrots and lucern, which are under sprinkler irrigation. She is also producing some seedlings as a means of lowering input costs.

With no formal training in agricultural production, Rampou says her interest in vegetable production was sparked by joblessness and poverty in her village.

“Vegetables are our everyday necessity, hence the resolve to make this my lifetime employment”, maintains Rampou.

After harvesting, the produce is marketed at the local pension pay-points and at various fresh produce supermarkets in Swartruggens and Zeerust towns. She also supplies vegetables for the local Primary School’s feeding scheme. “Community members are consistently buying vegetables from me for household consumption,” she added.

Having identified the project’s potential for growth, Rampou has been nominated for participation in the 2013 Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries’’ (DAFF) Female Entrepreneur of the Year Awards to compete in the smallholder producer category. The MEC for North West Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Desbo Mohono, says young farmers like Rampou have what it takes to shift the youth’s perception about agriculture, as her attitude and approach towards this sector is positive.

“While we honour the contribution young people made during the struggle for freedom in June, we remain optimistic that they will continue to play their part in liberating our rural communities from hunger, poverty and unemployment, and Rampou is but one example,” Mohono said. Rampou says her produce are of good quality as the Department’s Agricultural Extension Officer is regularly advising her on how to apply best production practices like the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Rampou employs three permanent and two seasonal labourers. She intends to expand her 1.5 hectares backyard plot by planting butternut and tomatoes, for which the land has already been prepared.

Contact Person: Bonolo Mohlakoana (Ms) bmohlakoana@nwpg.gov.za

icon  Agriculture can be attractive to young people

By Magdalena Wos

Nowadays moving from a village to the big city is a natural process for many young people. Many perceive country life as boring and move to the city in pursuit of a ‘better’ life. But does life in urban areas offer a better and brighter future? Does rural life have nothing interesting to offer young adults? Sarah Madonsela’s story proves this theory wrong.

Today Sarah Madonsela (31) who sees her future as a farmer is a first year student of crop science at Tompi Selea College of Agriculture in Limpopo. Her passion comes from her parents, successful small farmers and members of Heifer’s Hereford Project.

Heifer International South Africa (Heifer) is a non-profit organisation that assists poor rural families on their way to a sustainable, food-secure life. Members with whom Heifer work receive training and livestock. Over a 3-5 year period of cooperation with the organisation, they become small farmers.

Sarah’s mother, Johanna, joined one of Heifer’s projects in Limpopo a few years ago. While participating in the Hereford Project, Johanna received training in the necessary skills as well as the gift of a cow. She also established her own vegetable garden.

A few years of hard work as farmers has completely changed the lives of Mrs Madonsela’s family and other project members. Through regular access to milk and vegetables, the nutrition of the project families improved dramatically. They began generating a regular income through selling milk within the community as well as selling vegetables at local and national supermarkets. Some members generated additional income by selling bulls. With fast growing farming businesses and increasing responsibilities, some of the project members decided to employ people from the community to help them with planting and harvesting vegetables, as well as take care of animals.

Sarah’s family also noticed the difference farming brought. Selling butternut and green beans as well as milk became a source of regular income, generating R2 700 per month. For Sarah’s parents this not only led to improved nutrition in the family, it enabled them to pay for the children’s school fees. They also managed to invest in the farming business and bought a tractor.

Being a farmer “makes sense”

But for the Madonsela family, joining Heifer’s project brought one unexpected change. Daily involvement in farming activities, seeing the passion and joy farming brought to her home as well as the changes in her family’s life, created an interest in agriculture for Johanna’s daughter, Sarah. In 2011 Sarah received a Sector Education and Training Authority scholarship and began her studies at the Tompi Selea College of Agriculture. Asked how friends her age react to her involvement in agriculture and Heifer’s project, she says, “For them being involved in the project is foolish.” For Sarah, however, being a farmer is not only interesting, it makes sense. Sarah sees agriculture as a way to a sustainable and food-secure life. In the future she plans to be even more involved in her parents’ farming business and to export their vegetables abroad as project members have already been doing.

With limited resources and understanding, many young people find agriculture unappealing and consider the city as the only escape from poverty. Fortunately there are still young people like Sarah who prove this theory wrong and show that agriculture can help open doors to a far greater future and there are many opportunities for job creation for the youth in agriculture.

Heifer International South Africa

icon  Africa Day 2013 – Not yet Uhuru (By Davison Chikazunga)

I recently attended the 13th “Market Matters Agribusiness Leadership” conference in Cape Town, which rekindled my interest in Africa – my mother land. During a plenary titled “The rise of Africa, Reality or Myth”, I raised the question of reparation for the past sins committed against the continent through slavery and colonialism. I suggested that the rise of Africa should be engineered by Africans themselves and not by intellectuals somewhere in American, European and off late Chinese universities. I think the time is nigh for Africa to rise but this will remain a myth if there is no total economic emancipation.

All the 53 countries on the continent can certainly claim political sovereignty to an extent, however for most countries it’s not yet “Uhuru” (freedom). The “World Order” as authored by Washington still dictates who controls and owns Africa’s resources, and the continent is being forced to worship free enterprise with economic and trade liberalisation, as well as foreign investment as the guiding principles to the promised land of “economic prosperity.” Under such a system Africa will always play second fiddle to other global regions while its resources are being stripped in the name of trade and free enterprise.

The dawn of independence in Africa which started in Ghana (West Africa) is a sham; there is nothing much to show for it besides changes of national flags and the colour of the political elites. A survey of international data shows that African economies are an extension of American and European economies, with China using the same old imperialist tricks to deplete the continent. A close look into every industry on the continent points to the presence of global capital everywhere. Multi-nationals are a “bad economic legacy” which will haunt Africa for a long time, since these firms are allowed to smuggle revenue out of the continent through sophisticated banking theatrics.

Growth without ownership is a myth

I am not an avid supporter of the current format of the Africa growth story, because without change in ownership it only takes the continent back to the dark days of colonialism. The only difference is that the conquering is no longer through the barrel of a gun, but through bundles of cheap foreign currency. Ironically the so-called foreign currency is the same money which caused the financial turmoil in America and Europe. Now that interest rates are at their lowest these monies are being used to grab Africa’s resources at an alarming rate. Despite these developments I do believe that Africa is the next frontier of real economic growth.

There is however a real need to address the ownership of economic resources, and for Africa to rewrite its economic policies. Africans should establish their own development bank; the current African Development Bank still has it umbilical cord in Washington under the auspices of The World Bank. There is a need for wholesale indigenisation of resource ownership on the continent, and this should start with agriculture, land and mines. No foreign firms should be allowed to own a mine or land on the continent, and production of mineral extraction should be on lease arrangements.

Where is Africa’s green revolution?

Africa also needs an agricultural revolution but with different recipe than the Asian green revolution; this revolution should be driven by increased support of the sector. Direct subsidies and related farmer support should be introduced to commercialise the sector. The old development models are straightforward but no country can achieve development without addressing food security first. There is no excuse for the continent’s fertiliser use to remain low, given the availability of oil in some countries (which is a main ingredient for fertilisers).

To increased production, countries on the continent should desist from exporting raw products such as fruits and vegetable, only to be imported back as finished products. If value addition of agricultural products should be processed it will go a long way towards industrialisation on the continent. The same demand for value addition should be placed on the continent’s mineral resources; no mineral should be exported in its raw form. Africa is currently, for instance; losing up to three times its income on mineral revenue. Why can the continent not have factories which fabricate steel (from iron ore) or make catalytic converters (from platinum)?

It is high time that Africans become the authors of their own economic destiny but this will require honest introspection on what kind of Africa do we aspire to inhabit. I believe the Zimbabwean model of repossession provide a template on what can be done to reclaim the continent, but it needs revision from its current unfriendly market approach.

(Africa Day is held on May 25 across Africa to commemorate the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, known as African Union (AU) at present. The African Union, covering 54 members of African states, is meant to eradicate the troubles of poverty, natural disasters, extreme weather, and armed conflict in Africa.)

Chikazunga is an agricultural economist specialising in agribusiness development at the Institute of Poverty Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), Department of Economic Management, at the University of Western Cape.

icon  African and German farmers unite for agriculture

Representatives from African farmer associations and international agribusiness met in Pretoria, South Africa from 6 to 10 May. The seminar was co-hosted by the German Farmer Association, African Farmer Association of South Africa (AFASA) and Agri-South Africa. Supporting the seminar were German Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Protection, Bayer Crop Science and AGCO International.

Participants came from 12 countries and represented 15 Farmer Organisations, including the regional Southern Africa Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU). Most participants came from Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Malawi), several from Eastern Africa (Ethiopia Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) and one each from Ghana and Niger in West Africa. Most representatives from agri-business came from Germany.

The purpose of the seminar was to build up on the Declaration prepared at the end of last year’s seminar (June 2012 in Berlin and Herrsching, Germany) and to elaborate a way forward with respect to the following:

  • Professionalization of agriculture as a basis for increased productivity
  • Cooperation in agriculture to mobilise and capitalise on agriculture potential

Under the first theme, experience was exchanged on technical issues with respect to the themes of seed production and crop protection; livestock services and animal husbandry; mechanisation; and vocational training in agriculture and agri-business. Hands-on information was obtained during the field trip to a commercial ranch (husbandry) and a visit to the Bayer production site (agro-chemicals)

Cooperation in agriculture was discussed in relation to farmer and producer organisations and a visit to a bakery further illustrated the idea of cooperative development.

Main discussion and conclusions of the seminar by theme were:

Farmer Organisations

Farmer organisations are seen as a driving force for increased productivity in agriculture.

Farmers should join forces whether it is the form of organisations, commodity associations or cooperatives. The African governments increasingly acknowledge this as well.

Farmer organisations have to be inclusive as a fragmentation of organisations leads to farmers not being adequately represented in policy dialogues and stakeholder platforms. This still is a problem in Africa. Cooperation should be pursued especially between commercial and smallholder farmers based on win-win scenarios where smallholder farmers gain access to services and markets via commercial farmers’ networks.

Farmer organisations should be representative, but at the same time it should be acknowledged that farmers are a heterogeneous group. Farmer organisations should have an overview of the different categories of farmers, their needs and opportunities. This information should be used in dialogues with government and international development agencies to make sure that development programmes (e.g. input subsidies) are well targeted.

Farmer organisations should be a legitimate entity, to be officially acknowledged and to be able to engage in fund raising.

Farmer organisations need leadership as a pre-requisite of success. Agriculture development means empowering (grassroots) farmers and involves a tilting of the power balance, be it between public and private actors or national and local levels.

Farmer organisations should be politically independent and should lobby for enabling frame conditions in policy, finance and education. In many countries, political interference undermined the farmer organisation structure. Political interference may be easier where organisations depend on public funds, but is possible even where they receive no government support. Political independence can be assured by rules such as people active in government or party politics cannot be farmer leaders.

Farmer organisations should be financially independent, although this is difficult to achieve where farmers are poor and membership fees are low. Where public (government or donor) support is received, it is best when this is either directly channelled downwards to the farmers or be of a temporary nature and only used, for example, to set up structures and systems at the beginning. Public funding of an organisation’s operational expenditure should be discouraged as it disturbs the accountability relationship to its members.

Crops

Seed quality and crop protection are often overlooked despite their high productivity increasing potential, as farmers focus on fertiliser and use harvest-saved seeds.

Internationally recognised standards for registration and certification are needed: Presently plant protection products tested in South Africa may be sold in some countries (e.g. Zambia) but not in others (e.g. Malawi) – Regional farmers’ organisations (such as SADC) may play a role in harmonising regional conditions for trade and production.

Farmer organisations have to lobby for land rights. Farmers who do not have secure land rights (either for use or ownership) are reluctant to invest and are unable to use the land as collateral in obtaining bank loans.

Farmer organisations should enter the crop seed value chain; Agro-dealers like Bayer Crop-Science and AGCO International should work more directly with farmer organisations as a channel of distribution rather than just agro-dealers. Trials with crop protection or other plant protection products should be carried out not just on model farms but also on farmers’ fields.

Farmer organisations should educate members on responsible use of plant protection products to avoid human health and environmental hazard.

Livestock

The coordination of services along the value chain (dairy, beef etc) makes production more efficient. Farmers should network and coordinate with farmers and service providers to come to more comprehensive and more timely delivery of livestock services.

Farmers should aim for quality and rather than quantity and invest in the production of premium products because the market for quality is growing even in Africa.

Service quality and accountability is improved when farmers are not only users but also stakeholders of service provision. In most African countries a large part of even commercially viable) services is still provided by government with no farmer involvement.

The use of specialised (e.g. meat or dairy) livestock breeds can increase turnover and make even smallholder livestock production profitable. Cooperation of livestock producers can capture economies of scale, thus further increasing returns. Farmer organisations should support the introduction of better breeds and/or the improvement of indigenous breeds.

Integrated crop-livestock farming systems allow for increased production at low or no extra cost, for example maize stalks used as fodder and livestock manure as fertiliser.

Mechanisation

The concept of Machine Rings can help increase mechanisation rates on small farms also in Africa. However, the German model (whereby farmers own the machines that are used by others) needs to be adapted to the African context. Cooperations owning machine pools from which members hire against standard prices may be a promising model.

Machine rings release manpower. In Africa mechanisation of farm work more often releases women’s labour. This tends to be a good thing, though issues as loss of income generating opportunities for women (piece work or seasonal labour) should be taken into account when advocating machine ring models.

Farmers often take out loans to finance the purchase of farm machines, but opportunities for better income generation at the level of the farm should also be assessed. One of these is improved crop storage, either to reduce post harvest losses or to enable sale at a later point in time when crop process have increased. Farmer organisations should support the increased use of silos or warehouses (e.g. through warehouse receipt systems).

icon  South Africa – A Land Divided

I participated in the recent “Land Divided” conference held at tnd from abroad in the fields of rural developrs, planners, lobbyists, policy-makers as well as politicians.

A number of excellent presentations were made which aroused heated debate around the dynamics of land ownership patterns in South Africa, including other countries such as Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The presenters’ positions on the land issues were unanimous in that the land ownership in South Africa is still divided across race and class despite government’s attempts to redistribute land among black South Africans. The land issue splits the country on emotional lines; with the landless black population demanding restorative justice. On the other hand the current majority land owners (largely white) are reluctant to support reallocation of land as this will endanger their livelihoods as well as the country’s economy. This split also transcends into the popular debate among industry players, where a strong conservative lobby group led by capital agriculture is resisting redistribution. The flip side of the coin is made of pressure groups of landless people who want justice by giving land back to the dispossessed blacks.

Should SA follow Zimbabwean land model?

There is a general hypothesis among the conservative (agribusiness and commercial agriculture) that land reform would disrupt South Africa’s economy should conform to market principles. It should not be chaotic like the Zimbabwean model which plunged the economy into hyperinflation and shrinkage of the economy. A counter theory by the land lobby groups is that land distribution can be a panacea to poverty and unemployed. This group brings forward the Zimbabwean case as a testimony on the economic benefits of giving land to smallholders. The view was shared by a number of prominent academics and scholars – during the launch of a book titled: Zimbabweans Taking Back Their Land” at the conference. The book presents a positive spin to Zimbabwe’s land reform process which was originally coined by Ian Scoones on his earlier book.

The book reflects on the turn-around of agriculture production especially among small-scale land beneficiaries. It reports that smallholders with less than 6 hectares have fully integrated back into commercial agriculture with little or no external support. The case of tobacco is used to illustrate the potential of land reform in driving restorative economic and political justice. Before the year 2000 about 90% of the crop was produce by less than 2000 commercial white farmers, who produced 230 million kilograms. After production plummeted by more than 80% during the chaotic land reform drive, tobacco production has again recovered to 80% through smallholder production. Despite the rosy picture painted by the book on this scenario, conference delegates were divided on whether South Africa should follow the Zimbabwean land reform model.

Land conference failure

In my reflection the conference was a good academic gathering but failed dismally to come up with feasible recommendations on what ought to be done to redress the current challenges limiting the land reform programme in South Africa. There is one debate which was absent in the conference and that is transformation of the agricultural industry for new entrants and marginalised communities. South Africa agricultural economy is highly integrated and concentrated across the sectors, consolidation of value chains presents barriers to entry for new and smallholder farmers. There is a need to deal with the dominance of capital agriculture and agribusiness which were absent from the debates put forward. In my view if the dominance of agribusiness in agriculture is not confronted the success of land reform remains a distant dream.

Current initiatives such as AgriBEE, the New Growth Path and National Development Plan are very weak and lack the details on how agribusiness can assist in the commercialisation of land reform beneficiaries. With the current half-baked policies and lukewarm interest from industry captains the reality of a “divided land” will be lasting legacy of South Africa’s agricultural sector.

Chikazunga is a researcher with PLAAS at the University of Western Cape in South Africa.

icon  The paradox of land reform in South Africa

By Davison Chikazunga

The discussions on land reform remains highly charged; interestingly it coincides with the 100 year mark of infamous Native Land Act of 1913 which brought wholesale displacement of the black population in South Africa. Despite achieving political transformation, the redistribution of economic assets (such as land) has lagged behind in South Africa. Official statistics indicates that only 7% as opposed to the target of 30% of agricultural land has so far been redistributed to black communities.

The debate on land reform policy in South Africa is also highly contested among scholars, academics, lobbyists, practitioners and policy makers. The discourse is polarized with no clear consensus on what needs to be done to redress the skewed patterns of land ownership. There are two broad voices emerging in the discourse – calls for the fast tracking of the land reform process and conservative calls for the halting of the land reform process. This call is anchored on the argument that the 30% land target aimed for redistribution has also already been reached, if private land purchases by the black middle class is taken into account. There are calls for an audit of land owned by the state and traditional trusts, which should also be used for land reform purposes.

The debate on land reform has been reinvigorated after ANC Mangaung conference which hinted at the dropping of the willing-buyer-willing-seller model. This opened a new can of worms as the ruling party seems to be clueless on alternative models for delivering its land reform objectives. In my opinion the only feasible and plausible option might nationalisation as touted by Julius Malema, former President of the ANC Youth League. This sounds over-zealous and unconstitutional, but will ultimately require the scrapping of the sacred property clause in the constitution. I strongly feel that if proper land reform has to take place in South Africa, some form of constitutional amendment is inevitable.

The recent farm workers wage strikes in Western Cape fruit farms is an awakening call that land reform cannot be postponed forever. It illustrates that the participation of black South Africans in the agricultural sector as commercial farmers (as opposed to wage labour) is long overdue. Commercial farming cannot be the prerogative of only 30 000 farmers mostly, who produce 90% of the country’s food demands. The need to establish vibrant successful black farmers is long overdue, however current land reform efforts are found wanting. Perhaps little thinking has been applied to this need, since land reform policy is vague on this and merely seems to replicate the white commercial farmers with black counterparts. The removal of the sub-division clause exposed weaknesses in policy design, which is blind to the reality of black agriculture whose backbone is small family owned entities.

To date land reform policy in South Africa has been divorced from appropriate agrarian programmes. Current models for supporting beneficiaries are highly inadequate and fragmented in most cases, while provision of support is outsourced to agribusinesses which masquerade as mentors or strategic partners. The current programmes ran by Government are also thin on providing access to essential services such as finance, training and markets. The beneficiaries are expected to rely on markets for accessing such support.  Ironically input and output of agricultural markets in South Africa are highly monopolistic and very unfriendly to new entrants. South Africa needs to urgently reassess whether the current land and agrarian reforms are best designed to reverse the evils of displacement.

The jury is still out on land and agrarian reform in South Africa and failure in this regard presents a gross compromise for transforming the economy of this much celebrated democracy.

Chikazunga is an agricultural economist and can be reached at: dchikaz1104@gmail.co.za

icon  Land Reform: ANC’s obsession with red herrings belies true motives, says DA

By Athol Trollip, Democratic Alliance MP and Shadow Minister of Rural Development & Land Reform

Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, recently proclaimed that ‘we must reverse the legacy of the 1913 Land Act’. So we must. Unfortunately, he also distorted the nature of the current problems by overemphasising the concentration of land ownership. While it is true that 35,000 famers are responsible for 90% of the country’s food production, this is actually less a problem of concentration than it is of a total lack of tenure reform. 1.5m of the 5m hectares of SA’s high-potential agricultural land, for instance, is in the former homelands, where 21 million citizens reside under insecure communal tenure. The land therefore remains unproductive, 18 years into democracy and a century after the Land Act.

The 1913 Native Land Act prohibited the establishment of new farming operations, sharecropping, or cash rentals by black people outside the ‘reserves’ – now the former homelands. In one of the most repressive acts in human history, the ruling National Party created artificial forms of ‘traditional’ tenure with maximum holding sizes and restrictions on land transactions. Subsequent policies of ‘black spot removal’ transferred the large majority of black farmers who had legitimately owned land outside the reserves into the homelands. Tenure restrictions, high population density and lack of capital and market access made commercial agriculture all but impossible. By 1993, average land ownership was 1.3 hectares by black people compared to 1,570 hectares by whites. The 1996 Constitution was designed to adopt a policy of land reform that would redress the injustices of apartheid, foster national reconciliation and stability, underpin economic growth, improve household welfare and alleviate poverty.

But land tenure reform has been remarkably unsuccessful. The original intention was to improve security of tenure for all South Africans. However, the recognition of communal ownership rights to land has been an unmitigated disaster.

So too has redistribution. Government has been quick to blame the so-called ‘willing-buyer, willing-seller’ model for its slow pace. Of course, the political rhetoric suits the incumbent ANC. It is easier to blame than to take responsibility. But even those who have been critical of white farmers in the past have recently noted that willingness on behalf of farmers is clearly not the core problem. Even when they demonstrate willingness, they are met with complacency to sheer incompetence by department officials. Just a few weeks ago, a judgment by the Supreme Court of Appeal castigated the Department of Land Reform for wasting public money after it failed to make payment on land bought in Mpumalanga and got involved in what judges called “ill-advised and morally unconscionable litigation” to appeal a High Court decision that it must pay punitive interest. Through poor management and decision-making in the Department, around R30 million was unnecessarily leaked from the public purse. It is this kind of mismanagement that hinders reform, not the willing-seller, willing-buyer model which the Department expediently employs as its red herring scapegoat for failure. Despite this obvious incompetence, at a recent party policy conference (June 2012), the ANC again vowed to scrap the ‘willing-buyer, willing-seller’ approach, though they reiterated that they would make no change to the constitution. But it is this very constitution that essentially allows for the market-assisted model.

More interesting, though, was the fact that Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the notorious Agriculture Minister, chaired the committee on land reform. It has also recently come to light that R808.5m of the national fiscus has been diverted from other departments for a presidential programme called the Masibambisane Rural Development Initiative (MRDI). The link between this programme and land reform may at first seem irrelevant, but it raises two related questions: First, is President Jacob Zuma using the MRDI – in conjunction with communal land tenure – to coalesce support for his internal party leadership battle looming in December? The second is whether the strategy followed by Mexico’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) for trapping voters in a relationship based on material dependence is the foundational philosophy of the MRDI.

Joemat-Pettersson says the MRDI is ‘an example of how government is now getting to grips with what pre-and-post-settlement support beneficiaries need and how all government departments need to work towards rural development. The Ncora Irrigation Scheme in the Eastern Cape, for example, is part of the presidential programme’. But this scheme is a throwback to a 1970s apartheid project; it is rather surprising that its entrenchment of Verwoerd’s ideals has not created more of a public disturbance in South Africa. The maize being harvested was planted by government on communal land. The plan is purportedly to transfer 20% of the proceeds to the community, while 80% will be sold by government and used for reinvestment in the scheme for next year’s crop. There is however no plan available to indicate exactly how either skills or revenue will be transferred to the community and who exactly will receive what portion. When we posed parliamentary questions about the business plan for the MRDI, we were told that ‘this is a work in progress’ and were given no relevant details.

President Jacob Zuma is the co-founder of the project and chair of the Masibambisane Trust, which manages the finances. The bulk of the projects will be executed in the Eastern Cape, (though the department of Agriculture has claimed it wants to replicate them anywhere else in the country where there are worthy recipients). This is particularly significant as it is an area in which the president is struggling to maintain political support over against his rival, deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. Most concerning, however, is that the project depends on local chiefs donating land (as the land in the former homelands is held in trusts chaired by chiefs).

Unfortunately, then, instead of following exemplary models of land reform in comparable countries, the ANC seems set on replicating the unenviable Mexican trajectory. In Mexico, land reform was a highly successful instrument for the mobilization of electoral support for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) – the move toward communal tenure known as the ejido. It came at the cost of an economy that could otherwise have been 124% larger than it is now. In the South African case, there is a slightly different dynamic at play. Purposefully refraining from land tenure reform (from communal to more secure types) appears to be an incumbent party strategy to keep the rural poor in dependence. An added feature is the current president’s own fight for political survival within the party. Ironically, he will attempt to leverage communal tenure with his Masibambisane projects to secure sufficient electoral support for his bid to maintain leadership of the ANC. Zuma’s efforts encapsulate the sentiment vividly expressed by the founder of the PRI, Plutarco Elias Calles: ‘The ejido is the best means of controlling these people by simply telling them: If you want land you must be with the government; those who aren’t with the government won’t get land’.

The ultimate effect, then, of following the Mexican model of Masibambisane-type projects is that it will come at the opportunity cost of real, sustainable and virtuous growth. Collective property rights, with no legal possibility to sell, rent or use as collateral, and subject to arbitrary distribution and/or expropriation by the chief, creates dependence on the state amongst the rural poor. In Mexico, thousands of rural producers could survive only because they received government subsidies. These subsidies created further political dependence on the PRI. The uncanny similarities are apparent in South Africa. 100 years after the abominable Land Act, we simply have to do better.

icon  An open letter to Cosatu’s Tony Ehrenreich

By Heindrich Wyngaard

Comrade Tony,

Unfortunatly  I was not able to talk with you about this on Saturday at Prof Jakes Gerwel’s memorial service held at the University of the Western Cape. Your were in conversation with two prominent, black empowered (Coloured) businessmen and it would have been rude to interupt.

I’m writing to let you know that I still have great appreciation of the role you play as a union leader; that, for me, you have always been someone who is in touch with – and symphatetic towards – the so-called people on the ground, or normal working class people.

I come from there myself:  I was born on a farm where my parents worked before they moved to the local dorp. I also spend a considerable number of my pre-school years on the onion fields, the “uielande”, of the Caledon area in the Western Cape.

So I am familiar with life on a farm and with farmworkers – good, hard working people who puts their trust in the Lord. Some would say it is for this reason that amidst their suffering farm workers have been turning the other cheek for such a long time.

Now, it seems to me, we have reached a turning point: farm workers have had it and are hitting back.

Of course, you find yourself in the centre of the storm with other union leaders, such as the black empowered man of the cloth, the Reverend Nosey Pieterse of Bawsi and Karel Swart of the Commercial Stevedoring, Agriculture and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWUP). Poor Karel really made me laugh when he had to admit during a radio interview in the week that they represent a mere 1 500 of the region’s almost 100 000 farm workers…

In any event, like you guys, I also want to see farm folk getting a better life than what can be provided for by a wage of R70 per day, but what worries me is the expectation created that that amount (which was determined through legal means) will simply be doubled overnight.  Where have you ever seen something like that in any other business?

Still, you guys persist with that demand, insisting on top of it that farmers should open their books so you can see with your own eyes the kind of profits (or losses, right?) that they make. That will be a good  measure of which farmers will indeed be able to offer higher wages than the current legally determined one.

But what to do in cases where the books are showing higher wages is just not possible?

Did you by any chance consider allowing farmworkers who are more concerned about the recent loss of income to be “absolved” from the strike action?

And while you are putting all these demands to the farmers (not without merit, I dare say) that they should give up their often luxury lifestyles so that workers can earn more, are you making any sacrifices or are you, perhaps, planning a Christmas lunch for the workers?

Or are you intending to invite them to join you over the Big Days for a kreef braai, or rock lobster barbeque, at the beach?

Or are they simply to see after themselves and settle for normal Sunday meal of chicken, potatoes, pumpkin – and some rice coloured red by beet root?

The writer works as a communications specialist at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. He is a former political journalist and continues to do freelance writing for a number of publications. The views expressed in the article are his own.

icon  Die plaaswerkers is ware landbouers – Desember 2012

Deur Jason Lloyd

Dit is hoog tyd dat Suid-Afrika ’n loflied vir alle plaaswerkers moet sing: vir hul onbaatsugtige diens aan die land. Omdat hulle selde kla en nooit maklik tou opgooi nie, slegte werksomstandighede ten spyt. Ware landbouers is hulle beslis.

“So, kô lat ons sing,” het die digter Adam Small in ’n ander konteks gedig.

Só het ek in 2009 geskryf, maar die onlangse stakings van veral bruin plaaswerkers in die Wes-Kaap teen hongerlone van R70 per dag bewys dat plaaswerkers regoor die land lankal moes gekla en gestaak het.

Ek onthou nou skielik die keer toe ek van Graaff-Reinet onderweg na Uitenhage was, het ’n beeld (skielik) uit die verlede voor my aangesig verskyn. Skuins voor Jansenville het dit skemer geword. ’n Ligte reëntjie het sy verskyning gemaak en die stilte van die uitgestrekte, verlate Karoo-vlaktes is stadig uitgedoof. Die gesuis van die reëndruppels was alomteenwoordig.

Voor my het ’n Toyota-bakkie gery. Oud, geroes en vervalle. Swart rook en ’n swaar dieselreuk het die verfrissende reuk van die reëndruppels gedemp.

Hulle was in (blou) overalls geklee, al vyf van hulle – al was dit Sondag. Sou hulle dan gewerk het – al is dit Sondag? Na die verbysteek het dit harder gereën en donkerder geword.

Die beeld uit die verlede: ’n hond neffens die boer in dié bakkie; agter reën die plaaswerkers nat.

Ek hoor toe David Kramer se verwerking van Kobus le Grange Marais – die digter Christopher Hope se satiriese blik op ‘n tyd wat nie meer is nie – se liedjie. Dit is ’n lied wat ou herinneringe terugbring en boonop diep sny; tot op die been.

Dié lied vertel ’n verhaal van elkeen op sy plek; die storie van die ou Suid-Afrika. Dié beeld uit (die ou) Suid-Afrika neem jou terug na 1978, toe Small sy drama The Orange Earth, gebaseer op sy grootwordplek, Goree, geskryf het. Waar sy ma deur die (wit) vrou agterom gestuur is toe sy by die plaashuis meel gaan haal het vir die nagmaalbrood.

Dit neem jou tot 2009. ’n Verslag van die Suid-Afrikaanse Menseregtekommissie verklaar die lot van plaaswerkers: “Skokkende vergoeding, alkoholmisbruik, ’n gebrek aan geleenthede, armoede, geweld, seksuele teistering, haatspraak en gebrekkige huisvesting.”

Maar ook: in die boek Nelson Mandela – freedom to the future (2003) skryf Jakes Gerwel dat Madiba steeds glo daar is goeie mans en vroue in elke gemeenskap. Net so ook is daar goeie boere wat hul plaaswerkers menslik behandel. Ook is daar minder goeie plaaswerkers. Ook moet die regering gedeeltelik geblameer word vir die stadige pas van transformasie in die landbousektor.

Vingerwys moet liewer stop. ’n Balans moet egter gevind word tussen voedselsekerheid, werkskepping, ekonomiese groei en die menseregte van beide plaaswerkers en boere. Onverantwoordelike politieke uitsprake en boere se weiering om hul winste van miljoene rande op ’n billike wyse met hul werkers te deel gaan die landbousektor vernietig. Dié krisis kan net deur gesprekvoering tussen alle partye opgelos word. Die noodsaaklike verhoging van plaaswerkers se lone is ’n belangrike deel daarvan.

Jason Lloyd was voorheen ʼn joernalis by Die Burger en het verslag gedoen oor die Suid-Afrikaanse verkiesing in 2004. Daarna was hy adjunkdirekteur: media & parlementêre skakeling (woordvoerder en toespraakskrywer) vir twee Oos-Kaapse Provinsiale Ministers in drie verskillende departemente (Finansies, Maatskaplike Ontwikkeling en Openbare Werke). Hy was in 2010 inhoudsredakteur en rubriekskrywer by Krit, feeskoerant van die KKNK in Oudtshoorn. Hy is tans kommunikasie-bestuurder by die Oos-Kaapse Departement van Paaie en Openbare Werke, ʼn bestuurslid van die Afrikaanse Skrywersvereniging (ASV) en ʼn vryskut- en rubriekskrywer vir verskeie publikasies. Sy kortverhale is gepubliseer op LitNet en in die bloemlesing, Palawer van die Woord