Land, water and agriculture in South Africa

Land, water and agriculture in South Africa

I spent my day in Free State where I participated in the South African Stud Book and Animal Improvement Association AGM. My presentation reflected broader themes of South Africa’s agricultural economy – production trends, trade, and policy.

But the discussion that followed was centred on three themes: water regulations and infrastructure, land reform policy; and compliments to the National Treasury’s economic policy paper, with the key focus on the agricultural section of it.

Water regulations and infrastructure

A few people expressed frustration at the slow and ambiguous process of water licensing and shared concerns about the water infrastructure. Fortunately, I had positive news that this matter has been elevated at national policy structures and work on easing the process is underway through bilateral discussions between business and government. The National Treasury economic policy paper released on October 30 also touched on this matter. Moreover, the Water and Sanitation Master Plan that is currently being drafted might address some of the dominant concerns in society.

Land reform policy

Most people needed to know about the current process on the land reform policy, and some asked if it is still a priority or has been shelved?

I think it is still a priority, but there are other pressing issues that have dominated the headlines over the past few months, most notably Eskom matters.

In my response to the question about the current process of land reform policy, I indicated that after consultations across South Africa in 2018 following the resolution by Parliament that there must be an assessment of whether section 25 of the Constitution should be amended, the outcome was that it should be amended.

But this process provided no specific wording on what the amendments should be. Hence, parliament set up another committee to advise the specific wording of section 25 of the Constitution. This committee will report back on 31 March 2020, upon which a draft Constitutional Amendment Bill will be tabled in parliament outlining the proposed amendments to Section 25.

At this point, it is unclear what the outcome of the process will be. Worth noting, however, is that there is no political party, I think, that has enough votes to singularly amend the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, as all have less than 66% votes in the National Assembly. Any amendment would require that either the Economic Freedom Fighters or the Democratic Alliance votes with the African National Congress. More on this will be clear in 2020, but it is certainly an aspect to watch.

Another equally important process within land reform policy is the report of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture, which I was privileged to be part of. The Panel finalised its report earlier this year and the Presidency made it available to the public in July 2019. The report was presented to the Cabinet and to the Inter-Ministerial Committee which might draw from it as it works to formulate the land reform policy direction. Again, the work is still underway and it is an equally important aspect to keep an eye on in the coming months.

National Treasury paper

The compliments were music to my ears. The attendees were particularly happy about the proposed approach of joint-ventures for agricultural development. But there was an equal concern that if broader policy questions such as land reform are not addressed, the potential positive impact of the National Treasury suggestions on agricultural development might be minimal.

I indicated that there are plans underway here also: an Agricultural Master Plan and Blended Finance model. It is not clear so far how these will look as the work is still in elementary stages. But for the plans to succeed, there must be a buy-in of both private and public sector to a clear set of rules and timelines for the process.

Concluding remarks

Overall, it was good engagement, although the sentiment is somewhat down because of both policy matters and also drought in the region of the Free State. On the latter, there are hopes for rainfall soon which could improve conditions. On the former, more work is needed. These are interesting times.

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