Written for and first appeared on Business Day.

We are emerging from a policy-heavy weekend, where the governing ANC gathered to discuss policy ideas ahead of its December elective conference. A range of economic matters were discussed at the conference that we will learn more about in the coming days.

Ahead of this conference, the ANC released policy discussion papers, one of which noted that “agriculture remains an important sector of the SA economy. It holds the potential to uplift many poor South Africans out of poverty through increased food production, vibrant economic activity and job creation”.

This is consistent with the views expressed in the Agriculture & Agro-processing Master Plan. This social compact approach broadly aims to boost inclusive growth and job creation in agriculture and agro-processing.

Notably, the ANC papers acknowledge that the growth of the agricultural sector will depend on effective land reform, which is partly about bringing underutilised land into production. Here the emphasis is on the Land Reform & Agricultural Development Agency, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2021 and mentioned more recently in his state of the nation address earlier this year. The details of this agency are not yet clear, but I understand there is work underway to structure it under the leadership of the agriculture, land reform & rural development minister.

For land reform to be successful and for SA agriculture to experience inclusive growth, it is critical to deal immediately with the deterioration of the network infrastructure across all provinces — road, rail, water, electricity and ports. I, therefore, found the acknowledgement of this challenge and the emphasis on the need to address them in the policy discussion papers to be important.

Another growing challenge, which the ANC did not reflect on at the time of releasing its policy discussion papers, is the need to expand export markets for various agricultural produce while retaining existing ones. This has become more important as we continue to see the disruption of SA agricultural exports to the EU (with citrus exports) and China (wool).

While the political focus may not be directly on specific countries and challenges, I would still like to see more emphasis and commitment to the expansion of export markets in general. The above-mentioned logistical improvements would help support and facilitate such exports.

Agricultural finance is another area crucial where agriculture requires support, specifically for new entrants to farming. The government and the governing party have expressed support for the revival of the Land Bank with this in mind, and financial instruments such as blended finance will be critical to driving the sector’s growth.

A lot more about the ANC’s policy discussions over the weekend is yet to be revealed. The most watched aspects will concern the nature of the discussions over land policy and whether there will be an emphasis on supporting government and social pact programmes such as the Agriculture & Agro-processing Master Plan.

Moving away from land expropriation as outlined in the ANC’s 2017 policy conference will be a welcome development and positive for the country. I believe the focus should be on the Land Reform & Agricultural Development Agency to drive land redistribution. This could be done effectively provided the agency is correctly set up and supported with the right skills and budget. This is what we all hope to hear from the minister.

Beyond the policy documents, the focus will be on the December ANC conference, which will further reflect on the policy aspects in addition to elective matters. For the country, a lot will depend on the implementation of the final policies. It will take time for the discussions of the policy conference and upcoming elective conference to be translated into government policy, and a lot could change along the way.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail: wandile@agbiz.co.za

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