The government’s support for farmers is critical in times of drought

The government’s support for farmers is critical in times of drought

The “do-nothingism” policy proposal I put forward (here) in response to this drought in South Africa does not necessarily mean a complete inaction by the government. It primarily refers to a need to practice restraint from major policy interventions such as grain export bans, price caps and panic importation.

The leadership at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development is concerned about the impact of the drought on farmers. They are exploring various approaches to support small, medium and large farmers.

There are financial losses in regions where there is significant crop loss.

So, “do-nothingism” refers to a need for restraint from the current policy path while exploring ways to support the negatively affected farmers where financial resources permit.

This approach will ensure continuous production in the next season and the long-term sustainability of our agricultural sector and food security.


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

Why has implementing the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan been so slow?

Why has implementing the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan been so slow?

As we are fast approaching the two year anniversary of South Africa’s Agriculture and Agro-processing Masterplan (AAMP), there is very little to show for in terms of implementation on the ground.

A series of compounding crises has seized the attention of government and inadvertently led to a minimal implementation of various critical plans and policies. Public and private sector attention has entirely  shifted to resolving persistent load-shedding, logistical constraints at ports, protectionism in export markets, animal diseases, and the spread of animal disease.

These events meant that the government and various industry stakeholders moved into “crisis” mode, and the attention shifted from the AAMP and its promise for growth in the sector to addressing serious structural challenges that are hampering growth. The political economy tensions that often arise between industry role-players and government while resolving these urgent and near-term issues have further strained trust and the collaborative vision.

Add all these problems to the age-long reasons for lack implementation – namely, corruption, lack of focus, and lack of capacity – and you have a perfect storm of stagnation and stalled progress in actioning the AAMP.

It doesn’t help that the general elections are just around the corner, and peak election season sees the political leadership is devoting more time to campaigns geared towards winning another election bid. None of the above aspects have much to do with the AAMP, and if at all, the action plan is nothing more than a footnote in any serious policy or political discussion.

Why is the AAMP essential?

The AAMP should be implemented as it offers the government and the private sector a framework to grow the sector, build competitiveness, attract more investment, improve inclusion, and create jobs.

These bold prospects directly address South Africa’s social challenges, such as rising poverty, low economic growth, and high unemployment. Each party involved in the AAMP has a bigger mission of resolving these broad societal challenges through relentless work in their businesses.

The AAMP is rooted in evidence-based research that outlines the possibilities for growth and the current growth-inhibiting factors. For example, growth constraints such as biosecurity, infrastructure, widening of export markets, registration of new crop protection chemicals, and various commodity-specific and regionalized plans are some of the aspects that the AAMP aimed to address.

These were to be tackled simultaneously with managing the financial needs in the sector, specifically for new entrant farmers through the blended finance instrument, and the land needs for expansion through the yet-to-be-launched Land Reform and Agricultural Development Agency that was mentioned several times in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The promise of these bold reforms in South Africa’s agricultural economy led to estimates that the gross value added to the sector could expand by over 15% in the following decade.

Disappointingly, the AAMP vision that excited most role-players in the agricultural sector is beginning to wane. Various challenges took focus away from the implementation of the AAMP, such as persistent load-shedding at the start of the year, logistical constraints at ports, protectionism in export markets, and the spread of animal disease.

What should the government and private sector leadership do?

Still, given the importance of this developmental and progressive plan for the sector, leadership is needed across all stakeholders to realign and rekindle the AAMP’s vision and outline steps for implementation. Therefore, implementation and operational planning are critical across various levels of government, mainly provincial and municipal governments, to ensure alignment and coherence in policy implementation.

Failure to operationalize the AAMP will be tragic for the agricultural sector and create a precedent of premature abandonment of yet another well-conceived plan that was never fully implemented.

Further negative implications will emerge – a damaging loss of confidence in the government and questions regarding the state’s credibility, competence and capability to implement government mandates. The loss of trust will imply that any other plan in the future will not receive the seriousness and commitment it deserves.

What must be done?

The first step should be geared towards designing implementation and operational modalities where each role-player has a sense of ownership, responsibility, and clarity about the steps they must take to see the AAMP through. The DALRRD will be at the centre of this process to lead the way, with the support of the private sector.

Notably, the DALRRD should have a dedicated desk that is fully staffed and focused mainly on AAMP implementation matters and stakeholder engagements. These personnel should not be dragged into “crisis” issues or other programmes that the government views as urgent but spend their time mainly on AAMP matters.


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

Farmers Discontents

Farmers Discontents

There is a growing sense of unhappiness amongst farmers globally. In Europe, protests against stringent environmental laws, calls for protectionism against imports, and increased producer support are some of the issues farmers continue to highlight.

We now see news of protests in India where farmers demand guaranteed crop prices and increased government support.

These events are far from us in South Africa but have relevance.

The big win for farmers in the EU so far was the agreement by lawmakers to review the environmental policy – with the “Farm to Fork Strategy” — aimed at reducing the use of chemicals and fertilisers, which threaten farmers’ productivity.

These production changes applied not only to EU farmers but also to trading partners such as South Africa. The EU is the second most important market for South Africa’s agricultural products, accounting for 27% of the country’s total agricultural exports. So we welcome the news of a review of the environmental laws.

Still, the rising talk about a need for protectionism in crucial agricultural export markets for South Africa is worrying. We see this reality in the EU. We continue to watch developments in India — hopefully, one won’t see such sentiment of protectionism becoming part of these protests.

South Africa’s agriculture has yet to have a strong presence in India. However, we aim to expand our agricultural footprint there, deepening the relationship in BRICS+ beyond a political ambition to deeper trade engagement in the coming years.

Various member countries widely shared this optimistic sentiment in the BRICS Business Council’s Agribusiness Working Group in 2023. (I chaired the global engagements in this working group in 2023. Russia leads us this year, and I currently chair the Working Group on Agribusiness).


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

Here is why the EU farms’ protests have relevance in South Africa

Here is why the EU farms’ protests have relevance in South Africa

As the farmers’ protests continue in various regions of Europe, the primary question on the minds of South African agriculturalists is what implications, if any, these will have on local production and exports.

According to various media reports, the protests mainly centre on the declining EU’s agricultural subsidies, the environmental policy to reduce chemicals and fertilizer use, and the need for protection against imports.

Whether or not the farmers are correct in raising their dissatisfaction about the EU’s policies on these areas is a point of much discussion. But it is worth emphasizing that these events and the policy outcome in response to them will matter for South Africa’s agriculture in two ways.

First, South Africa’s agricultural sector is strongly linked with the European Union (EU) through trade. The region is South Africa’s second most important market for South Africa’s agricultural products, accounting for 27% of the country’s total agricultural exports, according to data from Trade Map.

The EU and the rest of the world seek to implement urgent policy measures to combat the effects of climate change. In its 2030 climate target plan, the EU aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels. To that end, the EU has crafted the “Farm to Fork Strategy“, a new approach that ensures that agriculture, fisheries, and the entire food system effectively contribute to achieving this target.

The strategy seeks to ensure that farmers produce sustainably by setting targets that reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides and revising legislation regarding feed additives and animal welfare.

But these production changes will not only apply to EU farmers, but  trading partners like South Africa as well. Hence, monitoring whether the farmers’ protests make a dent in persuading EU lawmakers to adjust these regulations is vital for South African agricultural exporters.

From a South African perspective, sustainable agricultural practice is cause worthy of our collective support, and various farmers domestically are pursuing better production methods to ensure soil and environmental health.

To that end, attaining a balance between agro-chemical use and productivity in pursuit of environmental sustainability is critical. In that sense, a drastic reduction of agrochemicals use and fertilizers is not ideal as that would negatively impact the harvest quality and output. Hence, a reasonable transition under the framework of a moderate approach with feasible timelines, which EU farmers are advocating for, is worth supporting.

Such a reasonable outcome would imply that the EU’s trading partners do not have to significantly reduce agrochemicals and fertilizer use to lower productivity levels. This would also ensure that trade between South Africa and the EU continues on the current terms.

Second, there seems to be a growing protectionist sentiment among the various protesting farmers, arguing that EU lawmakers should consider protecting the farmers against unfair world competition. South Africa worries about this particular line of argument as an export-oriented sector with strong links with the EU. The South African agricultural sector has faced various protectionist tendencies in the EU market, particularly in citrus. For example, the EU recently used non-tariff barriers by alleging a “False codling moth“, a citrus pest, in South Africa and requiring that citrus products be kept at certain temperatures before accessing the EU market.

This happens while South Africa has already treated the products to eliminate the chances of such pest occurrence. This was a subtle form of protecting the Spanish farmers, who are also major citrus producers within the EU market.

With an outright view from farmer groupings in the EU that they face unfair competition in the global agricultural market, we worry that using various non-tariff barriers may be common.

The aspect of subsidies that the EU farmers also argued for is perhaps not mainly on top of mind for a South African farmer. Over nearly three decades, the South African agricultural sector has had to grow and be globally competitive with minimal government producer support relative to the EU and the US. The key aspects currently relevant for South Africa are matters pertaining to trade, which are environmental policies and the talk of unfair trade policies.

Overall, the outcomes of the EU farm protests will be consequential to South Africa, mainly the fruit, wine and beef industries with a specific interest in deepening trade with the EU region.

More importantly, the environmental laws in the EU, because of the importance and influence of the area in the world, will likely be applied in other regions over time. Such development would have notable implications for the exporting nations, again illustrating the importance and relevance of the ongoing developments in the EU.

Beyond the EU challenges, what we observe today – rising tension within regions and countries and amongst regions and countries – implies that each country must always seek to diversify its markets.

South Africa’s primary reliance on the EU region is one such risk, so exploring markets such as China, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Bangladesh is always essential. Notably, such market expansion should coincide with maintaining the EU market access – it remains vital and strategic to South Africa’s agriculture.


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

What political messages would speak to agricultural issues ahead of SA elections?

What political messages would speak to agricultural issues ahead of SA elections?

Over 70 countries around the globe will hold elections this year in what will be a huge test for democracy with implications for policy, geopolitics and ultimately businesses. South Africa is one of these countries, with its national and provincial elections due to take place this year. During this period, leaders of the various political parties that will be contesting for power outline their manifestos, speaking to the various challenges across society, economy as well as other areas and how they plan to address these challenges.

South Africa focus

Given the history of this country, it is commonplace for political parties to include land and agricultural policies in their election manifestos and promises. This year’s elections come when the agricultural sector faces serious challenges, thus offering an opportunity to hear whether the political leaders or various parties’ manifestos will speak to the pressing challenges of the sector.

The most pressing issues, according to the Agbiz/IDC Agribusiness Confidence Index results for the fourth quarter of 2023 include intensified delays and inefficiencies at the ports, rising crime, deteriorating rail and road infrastructure, worsening municipal service delivery, rising protectionism in key export markets, increased geopolitical uncertainty and persistent episodes of load-shedding. The slow process of launching the Land Reform Agency adds to this long list of sector challenges. This means that the over two million hectares of state land that should have been released to black beneficiaries remain unutilised, undermining not only the sector’s growth but also its transformation and inclusivity.

Some of the challenges mentioned above are beyond South Africans’ control, but the majority are within South African’s control. Hence, ahead of the elections and as manifestos are unveiled, it will be interesting to hear if these issues are raised by the various political parties and what policy actions are proposed to deal with them. We believe that if these challenges that farmers raise are addressed, the sector will unlock its long-term growth potential and increase employment opportunities.

The South African agricultural sector has done reasonably well over the past three decades, having doubled in value and volume terms. The exports reached record levels of US$12,8 billion in 2022, with employment also at the highest levels since the early 1990s, at 956 000 in the third quarter of 2023. The country has also improved its food security conditions, ranked 59th out of 113 countries in The Economist‘s Global Food Security Index, making it the most food secure in sub-Saharan Africa and reflecting the increase in agricultural output.

Still, the aforementioned growth-constraining factors weigh on sentiment in the sector and  could undermine investment and long-run growth prospects if they are not properly addressed. For example, in the last quarter of 2023, the Agbiz/IDC Agribusiness Confidence Index deteriorated by 10 points to 40. This is its lowest level since the second quarter of 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic hard lockdown restrictions. The fourth quarter results of the 2023 reading of the Agribusiness Confidence Index are below the neutral 50-point mark, implying that South African agribusinesses are downbeat about business conditions in the country.

Thus, we have long argued that the government and private sector should collaboratively work to resolve these constraints to attract investments and boost long-term growth. The roadmap for addressing these challenges and generally growing the sector had long been outlined in Chapter Six of the National Development Plan in 2012 and, most recently, in the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan. While both plans received broad sectoral support, implementation has proved challenging.

Therefore, ahead of the elections, the sector should look not only to pronouncements of the challenges above but also implementation plans. Ultimately, improvements in local governance, delivery of services, maintenance of roads, and release of land for new entrant farmers are essential for the growth of South Africa’s agriculture. Nationally, focus ought to remain on opening export markets, addressing logistics at ports, dealing with crop and animal disease, and embracing new technology by registering new agrochemicals and genetics, essential for boosting productivity. An agile decision-making environment would also be critical, particularly given the fast evolving nature of global and domestic risks.

Concluding remarks

Overall, we are optimistic that the sector will not face confidence-sapping destructive rhetoric this year as in the past elections when there were talks of expropriation without compensation. The conversation will likely be more focused and would help if it touches on the real issues of the sector outlined in this note. These aspects are not only ideas for agriculture and agribusinesses, but addressing them would also mean dealing head on with rural economic and low employment challenges. The next few months will be busy, but thankfully, the production conditions are favourable for the sector in the near term. Had they been negative, that would have taken attention away from the underlying challenges of the sector as leaders try to focus on near-term issues.


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

Thirty years into democracy, how has South Africa’s agricultural sector performed?

Thirty years into democracy, how has South Africa’s agricultural sector performed?

There are divergent views about the effectiveness and extent to which South Africa’s agricultural policies have been implemented. Regardless of how experts feel about the capacity of the state and the policy stance of the South African government since the dawn of democracy, the one undeniable fact is that the sector has grown tremendously. Data from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development show that domestic agricultural output in 2022/23 was twice as much as in 1993/94.

Whether this growth has been inclusive and transformative is a question I will return to later in this piece. For now, it’s important to emphasize the growth of the industry and the drivers of its expansion. Significantly, this expansion was not driven by a few sectors but has been widespread — livestock, horticulture and field crops have all seen strong growth over this period.

Of course, the production of some crops, most notably wheat and sorghum, has declined over time. This, however, had a lot to do with changes in agroecological conditions and falling demand in the case of sorghum, not policies.

These higher production levels have been underpinned, mainly by adopting new production technologies, better farming skills, growing demand (locally and globally), and progressive trade policy. The private sector has played a major role in this progress.

I use the words – progressive trade policy – solely to highlight South Africa’s standing in global agriculture. South Africa was the 32nd world’s largest agricultural exporter in 2022 – the only African country within the top 40 world’s largest agricultural exporters in value terms. This is according to data from Trade Map.

This was made possible by a range of trading agreements the South African government secured over the past decades, with the most important ones being with the African continent, Europe, the Americas and some Asian countries. The African continent and Europe now account for about two-thirds of South Africa’s agricultural exports. Asia is also an important market for South Africa’s agricultural exports.

The agricultural subsectors that have primarily enjoyed these signs of progress in exports are horticulture (and wine) and grains. Broadly, South Africa now exports roughly half its agricultural products in value terms. In 2022, South Africa’s agricultural exports reached a record US$12,8 bn.

Aside from the exports

The increase in agricultural output is why South Africa is now ranked 59th out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index, making it the most food secure in sub-Saharan Africa. I recognize that boasting about this ranking when millions of South Africans go to bed hungry every day may ring hollow, as I pointed out after a few presentations where I cited these statistics. However, it is essential to note that the lack of access to food that most South Africans face is due to the income poverty challenge rather than lack of availability due to low agricultural output, as is the case elsewhere in other parts of Africa. In essence, we need to ensure that there is employment and that households have a sufficient income.

We must remember that the Global Food Security Index balances the four elements (affordability and availability, as well as quality and safety) to arrive at a rating and covers matters at a broad national level. In this regard, South Africa produces enough food to fill the shelves of supermarkets with high-quality products but still has a long way to go in addressing household food insecurity, as many households cannot afford the food that is available in a way that meets their nutritional demands. This is a topic for another day!

Transformation

Earlier on, I noted that the consensus on agricultural growth is at variance with the diversity and sometimes polarizing views around the extent to which this growth is sustainable, inclusive and transformative. To my admission, the gains we’ve seen in agricultural production over the past two decades have not been equitably distributed across the agricultural industry. Specifically, the growth in the agricultural sector has been mainly restricted to organized commercial agriculture, sometimes at the expense of a distinct but heterogeneous cohort of farmers in South Africa.

As I argued in my recent book, A Country of Two Agricultures, “Nearly three decades after the dawn of democracy, South Africa has remained a country of ‘two agricultures’. On the one hand, we have a subsistence, primarily non-commercial and black farming segment; on the other, we have predominantly commercial and white farmers.”

The book adds that “The democratic government’s corrective policies and programmes to unify the sector and build an inclusive agricultural economy have suffered failures since 1994. The private sector has also not provided many successful partnership programmes to foster the inclusion of black farmers in commercial production at scale. It is no surprise that institutions such as the National Agricultural Marketing Council estimate that black farmers account for less than 10%, on average, of commercial agricultural production in South Africa. This lacklustre performance by black farmers in commercial agriculture cannot be blamed solely on historical legacies.”

While this paints a bleak picture of transformation in the agricultural sector, what we can also not ignore is the anecdotal evidence pointing to a rise of black farmers in some corners of South Africa. We see this in field crops, horticulture and livestock in provinces such as Free State, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and other regions.

Employment

Even with the adoption of technology that catalyzes agricultural productivity improvements, employment in South Africa’s agriculture has remained robust. For example, there were about 922 000 people employed in South Africa’s agriculture industry in 1994, according to data from Statistics South Africa. This is both seasonal and permanent labour. While the share of seasonal and regular labour changed over time, the broad employed conditions remained vibrant. In the third quarter of 2023, there were about 956 000 people working in primary agriculture, up 4% from 1994.

Concluding remarks

As South Africa moves forward, let’s always be mindful of the progress that has been made in boosting our agricultural fortunes (see Figure 1). And in the quest to grow and be more inclusive, be forever vigilant of the unintended consequences of the policies we seek to implement. Equally, we must never be complacent with the dualism we continue seeing in South Africa’s agricultural sector.

The task, then, is how to grow South Africa’s agricultural sector more inclusive and transformatively.

I think this will need both the private sector (organized agriculture groups and agribusinesses, etc.) and the government to craft a common vision for the sector with clear rules of engagement  and monitoring systems. This can build on the work of the National Development Plan (chapter six to be specific), Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan, Land Reform Agency (yet to be launched by the government), and other progressive programmes and policies available to the nation.


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

Diseases on farms in South Africa: recent outbreaks point to weaknesses in the system

Diseases on farms in South Africa: recent outbreaks point to weaknesses in the system

South Africa has had a number of outbreaks of animal diseases in recent months that suggest there are weaknesses in the country’s biosecurity system – the measures in place to reduce the risk of infectious diseases being transmitted to crops, livestock and poultry.

The outbreaks pose a major challenge for South Africa’s domestic animal farming sector. Fears of weaknesses in the system have been raised by agribusiness for some time, suggesting that pressures and concerns are mounting.

Biosecurity breaches are not unique to South Africa. They have become a significant challenge globally. It’s not easy to put a monetary figure on it, but reports of disease outbreaks across the world, and indeed in South Africa, suggest the problem has intensified.

In South Africa, reports about foot-and-mouth disease in cattleAfrican swine fever in pigs and avian influenza in poultry have become frequent. But few countries have had to deal with these disease outbreaks almost simultaneously, as South Africa has.

In 2022, six of South Africa’s nine provinces reported foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks. This was the first time in the country’s history that the disease had been spread this wide.

The situation remains critical.

All these outbreaks have had a notable impact on South African agricultural exports, and the growth prospects of the sector. For example, South Africa’s beef exports for 2022 were down by 12% year-on-year, according to data from Trade Map. This decline was primarily due to the temporary closures of various export markets following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in South Africa. Farmers are being hit hard.

Livestock and poultry account for roughly half of agriculture’s gross value added.

Based on this history and the experiences of the agricultural sector, there is concern that South Africa’s biosecurity breaches signal serious capacity challenges in farm biosecurity measures and the country’s veterinary and related support services (mainly the laboratories) that control the movement of livestock and vaccine production.

The South African government, organised agriculture and industry bodies should work together closely to address the country’s biosecurity challenges.

Disease outbreaks

On 4 November this year, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development announced it was investigating a suspected outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in one district.

This means the issue that was identified a year ago remains a challenge. These outbreaks weigh heavily on the cattle industry’s fortunes. The beef industry accounts for a sizable share of the South African agricultural economy, and is positioned to absorb new entrant farmers in the sector. Beef exports were about 1% of agricultural exports, valued at US$151 million, in 2022, according to Trade Map.

The sheep industry was also affected by the 2022 outbreak. China, a significant market for South African wool, suspended imports. This resulted in a 21% year-on-year decline in the export value of wool in 2022, to US$337 million, according to Trade Map data. Wool still made up 3% of South Africa’s record agricultural export value of US$12.8 billion in 2022.

China’s official reason for the suspension was the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. But it might not be all that clear cut. China may also have had capacity issues at its ports at the time because of the tail-end effects of COVID-19 and the restrictions there.

China has a unique protocol to handle wool shipments and avoid any contamination during a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in South Africa. This was agreed in 2019 after an outbreak.

In 2022 South Africa’s pig industry was put under fresh pressures. Towards the end of the year outbreaks of African swine fever were reported. The disease remains a challenge.

Most recently, the focus has been on avian influenza. More than a hundred commercial poultry facilities have reported cases. There are major losses for breeders of layers and broilers. As a result, there has been a spike in imports of fertilised eggs to rebuild the parent stock flock. This is key for stabilising the industry.

Major producers have announced serious losses. Consumers are also seeing a rise in the price of eggs.

Policy considerations

The growth prospects of farming businesses remain at risk if there are no material improvements in biosecurity. This is particularly true for sub-sectors that are crucial for inclusive growth. For example, the National Agricultural Marketing Council estimates suggest that black farmers account for 18%, 13% and 34% of wool, mohair and cattle production, respectively.

The department of land and agriculture should consider earmarking a share of its annual budget for emergencies to deal with biosecurity risks. These funds should be used only in the case of notifiable animal disease outbreaks and under strict rules and in concurrence with the South African National Treasury. This will be necessary to control animal movements, procure vaccines and permit vaccination in certain areas, employ additional staff and compensate producers when animals must be culled.

Notably, the government should also work the private sector on vaccine manufacturing as national laboratories have experienced failures in the recent past, thus weakening disease control efforts. Additionally, government should increase the number of veterinarians and animal health technicians.

Also necessary is the repair and maintenance of international fences, which fail to keep wild animals and infected animals from neighbouring countries out of South Africa. Collaboration between Public Works and the National Treasury in this respect is critical.

In essence, most interventions require better management, coordination, restructuring of departments, and investment in fencing, new laboratory equipment and vaccine production.

Beyond the technical matters, the relationship between the regulators and farmers should also be improved so that disease outbreaks can be managed collaboratively with no hostility.


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

What political messages would speak to agricultural issues ahead of SA elections?

Feedback from our South African agribusiness roadshow

We spent most of July on the road, engaging with agribusiness and sector role-players in various regions of South Africa. The feedback about the near-term outlook was reasonably positive in all our engagements, with many attributing their optimism to the favourable 2022/23 summer crop and 2023/24 winter crop seasons.

The feedback from the horticulture and wine industries also remained encouraging as various stakeholders forecast growth and expansion prospects in the coming years.

The outlook was less optimistic when we engaged the livestock and poultry industries that struggled with higher feed costs and persistent animal disease outbreaks.

Beyond this, what all meetings agreed on was that the persistent load-shedding, rising protectionism in key export markets, rising interest rates, intensified geopolitical tensions, ongoing weakness of municipality service delivery and network industries (water, rail and ports) and deterioration of rural roads remain a significant threat to the sustainability of their businesses.

While these are not necessarily new issues, the extent of weakness this year has reached worrying levels in some. Not all these issues are within the government’s control, but many are, and in such cases, the government should urgently assist. Here are a few of such cases.

First, the summer rainfall, which has supported agricultural production, has also had the downside of exacerbating the damage to neglected rural roads. This is not a challenge faced only by large commercial farmers that serve a broader clientele but all farmers.

The emerging or new-entrant black farmers with limited financial resources face this challenge more acutely. The roads across the rural towns of the Eastern Cape, Free State, North West, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, to name a few provinces, are poorly maintained in some instances in an unusable state.

Compounding this challenge is the reality that South Africa now transports over two-thirds of its agricultural produce by roads, as rail transport has faced its fair share of challenges over the years. This means the higher agricultural output without functional roads does not yield full financial benefit to farmers and agribusinesses, as some have to fund private construction at their own costs to maintain some roads. This happens while the municipalities often have the allocated financial budget to cover their infrastructure needs but mismanage the funds, as so often reported by the Auditor General.

Secondly, the rising protectionism in crucial export markets remains a major challenge. This area requires the South African government to take the lead and help engage with our trading partners to resolve this issue. Moreover, the need for expanding export opportunities has become even more urgent as the agricultural output consistently improves and the country has limited capacity to absorb new produce.

Japan, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Philippines and South Korea are key markets in which South African agriculture and agribusinesses are interested in expanding their presence. While working on new markets, we must maintain access to existing markets such as the EU, Africa, the US, and various Asian markets.

Third, biosecurity remains a challenge as we see through various outbreaks of Foot-and-Mouth disease, African Swine Fever and Avian Influenza. All these outbreaks worsen the operating conditions in industries that have also felt higher costs of inputs.

As a result of these outbreaks, exports of livestock products have also been negatively affected. Therefore, the South African government, along with organized agriculture and industry bodies, should closely work together to address the biosecurity challenges in the country.

As climate change intensifies, animal diseases are likely to be more prevalent. As such, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development should consider earmarking a share of their annual budgets for emergency purposes to deal with animal disease outbreaks.

The issues discussed here aren’t exhaustive, but I believe they highlight the key intervention areas that translate the ideas on paper in various plans into tangible projects.

Written for and first appeared on Business Day.


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

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