Catch-22 for South Africa's farming costs

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Catch-22 for South Africa's farming costs

The Bureau for Food and Agriculture Policy (BFAP) warned against the implications of continued farm labor strife in South Africa, explaining the need to balance farm costs with worker well-being.fruit _ recetasdelujo _com

"South Africa’s agricultural sector has long been dependent on cheap and unskilled labour. However, it is becoming clear that this system will not survive into the future, which will be characterised by fewer, more skilled and better paid workers," the bureau explained in its agricultural wage analysis.

"The transition between these production systems is already in motion, and has many policy implications.

"One thing that has become evident with the current spate of labour unrest is that public policy is not geared to ease this transition for either the workers or the farmers: in fact there is hardly any evidence that the problem itself is recognised among the different role players."

Although permanent workers were found to earn more than the minimum wage of ZAR69 (US$7.76) a day, seasonal fruit workers in the analysis earned at most ZAR84 (US$9.44).

BFAP described a catch-22 in which the average farm will not be able to afford a minimum wage increase of more than ZAR20 (US$2.25), despite the real need for families to bring in higher wages.

"The real problem is that even at what seems to be an unaffordable minimum wage of R150.00 (US$16.87) per day, most households cannot provide the nutrition that is needed to make them food secure. The potential conflict that this creates can be highly disruptive and will have to be managed with circumspection," the report explained.

BFAP foresaw a future more dependent on mechanization and consolidation into larger farming units to cut costs and increase efficiency.

In terms of job loss, it said mechanization isn't to be feared.

"Mechanisation should not necessarily be seen as a threat against manual labour; it should rather be thought of as the opportunity to increase the output delivered per worker and stimulate the agroeconomic sector under a favourable economic and political environment," it said.

The South African Citrus Growers' Association chimed in on the report conclusions, expressing deep concern for the ongoing situation.

"There is a need for agriculture to confront the labour issue – and to look at ways to tackle the sustainability dilemma. The announcement of 14,000 job losses in the platinum mining sector illustrates the unintended consequences of mass action," the association said.

"The difference with farming is that the people without jobs live a stone’s throw (literally) from the farms, and entire communities are dependent on the success of agriculture in their area."

As a start, the association encouraged retailers to take a look at their own profits to help cut costs. It also encouraged producers to better utilize resources such as tools from the Citrus Academy to improve productivity and use of the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa program to improve worker welfare.

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