Planting the seeds of poverty

Kevin_Kingby Kevin King

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We have a serious crisis in this country. With many millions of South Africans affected by poverty and unemployment, many millions more are expected to be affected. With high food prices already knocking the pockets of every South African, we can expect astronomical prices in the coming years and a scarcity of basic food stuffs.  “A scarcity in basic food stuffs? You must be joking!” That’s what I’d say 10 years ago, but no longer. From an agricultural giant and leading world exporter, we have quickly found ourselves in the realm of net importer status. All because the ruling party got it wrong.

After our transition to democracy, the ANC decided that land redistribution was the way to go.  And like planting seeds, they drew up their policies and passed a number of bills. These plans were meant to redistribute white farmers’ land to black farmers and to communities which were previously the ‘rightful owners’. Today, many years down the line, these seeds have grown to such an extent that a disaster looms for all. Let me illustrate the ruling party’s end produce.

Decline in commercial farmers, skills lost in 1994 there were some 120 000 commercial farmers but today a mere 37 000 remain. Yes, many of the previously 120 000 commercial farmers were white and transformation needed to take place, but with a sum total of 37 000 commercial farmers today, how many successful, black, commercial farmers have we produced and how many successful, white, commercial farmers has our country lost?

Farming has become “SA’s most dangerous job”. The threat of being the next farm murder victim (almost 4 000 farmers since 1994) and the threat of land grabs have resulted in many successful, white, farmers packing their bags and heading for greener pastures. And many of these farmers have indeed found greener pastures abroad and in other African countries. Congo, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique are some of the governments who have invited them to farm in their countries on land earmarked for farming.

Other countries such as Gabon, Guinea and Ghana are also in talks. The starving continent of Africa has a huge demand for agriculture, job creation and filling empty stomachs. What better place for these farmers to apply their knowledge and skills. Further up north, Georgia has invited this group of endangered species to attempt to revive their agricultural industry by providing land and equipment. Quoting the Georgian government spokesperson, “South African farmers are some of the best farmers in the world.  They have good experience and we would like to see such farms in Georgia.  There is a lot of potential here.”

Regarding Georgian farmers who generally struggle to earn a decent living, “They want to set up joint ventures with South African farmers because they think they could raise the profitability and productivity of their farms,” he said. “They are more than delighted to have South African farmers and South African expertise on their farms.”

Meanwhile our government has opposing, often moronic, views to the rest of Africa. The Agriculture Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, last week said the following regarding the departure of commercial farmers from South Africa, “This will not be a threat to food security in South Africa; instead, this will enhance food security in the continent.” This a real irony considering that other countries are trying to do the same thing but by attracting our farmers to their farm lands.  It gets more idiotic when she says, “South Africa has skills it can share with other South Africans and with the rest of the continent.”

To an educated mind it would appear that skills are departing with the departing farmers and these skills are to be applied in other African countries indefinitely. Back at home, along with the loss of these farmers and their skills and experience, the former workers of these farms have lost their jobs. From around 1.6 million tax-paying farm workers (mainly black) which were employed in 1994, to around 300 000 in just 16 years.

I challenge anyone to provide me with intelligent reasons on how losing 83 000 commercial farmers and losing over a million jobs are to the advantage of our country and our people.

Demise of profitable, food producing farms According to the ANC itself last year, 90% of redistributed farms do not produce excess food. Farms which once produced hundreds of thousands of tons of produce and employed hundreds of workers now lie idle and are a mere shell of what they used to be.  The remaining few black farmers are but a handful and use the land for subsistence farming.

Mismanagement, corruption and the lack of sufficient skills and experience has had catastrophic effects on many farms.  To mention one of a thousand examples of farms which are now liquidated/idle/non-producing:

  • The Zebediela Citrus Estate (Limpopo) – Once described in the Readers’ Digest, “400 million oranges are harvested each year from the groves of Zebediela, the world’s biggest citrus estate. The output is sufficient to provide one orange for every eight people on earth.”  This magnificent farm went from riches to ruins in just a few years after being taken over by the state.

Yet the talk/threat of land grabs/redistribution continues.

To avoid looking like a second Zimbabwe and forcibly removing white farmers off their land, the government has now come up with cunning plan to grab land without having to remove the white farmers by force. This plan is called the “Land Tenure Security Bill”. If signed off by the ANC government it will amongst other things, give farm workers the right to keep livestock on the farms where they work, which will be allowed to graze “indiscriminately” on the property.

The bill will also give workers the right to plant their own crops and build homes for themselves and close relatives, from which they may never be removed.   Andy Tladi, a black sunflower farmer, says he is leaving to the DRC this year as the bill “gives farm workers a ‘blank cheque’ to do whatever they want to do on land that doesn’t belong to them.  The bill is going to worsen the situation for farmers. You are actually going to see workers putting up villages on farms. If you allow 10 people to build houses on a farm, in about 20 years you could have up to 30 families. So how does the farmer continue to grow and invest under those circumstances? I am a black farmer and I won’t be able to handle that.  A lot of farmers will fly out of the country.”

The high likelihood of failure for black farmers is a reality. Without the necessary skills and experience, even a successful farm which has been acquired through redistribution most often fails. Then when a rare success does happen, more often than not, there is a lack of backing from government which leads to failure or inability to grow.  Steven Mohale, a leading black, tomato farmer in Limpopo, has been battling for years to get government assistance in order to grow his business. But it seems the only help he received was from private banks and white farmers.

To quote an article about Steven in Farmers Weekly, “I’m very disappointed in the way the government treats farmers. It’s high time government stopped insulting farmers. We spend a lot of time with white farmers in this area and almost all are very helpful. People who accuse farmers of bad things are talking nonsense. South Africans need to realise the sector is responsible for feeding the nation and creating employment – and so farmers deserve respect. But government’s attitude doesn’t help.”

In conclusion, it is clearly obvious to someone with a little bit of intelligence that we are heading for disaster. In fact we are already looking at a disaster if you look at how the majority has suffered in the last decade or so in terms of poverty, unemployment and starvation. Billions of taxpayers’ rands have been pumped into redistribution projects and this money has literally been flushed down the toilet, not to mention the millions stolen by corrupt, ANC linked officials. Now billions more has to be spent of which another 90% will be wasted. With calls for 100% nationalisation by Julius Malema, we could be in for even more serious trouble. At this moment I do not see much hope for agriculture in our country and in turn not much hope for the economy and our people.

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