Opinion: Instability, uncertainty may dampen South African farmers’ optimism about ag future

October 23 , 2017

By Hamlet Hlomendlini, senior economist at South African farmer organization Agri SA

Despite the hostile operating environment, farmers represented by Agri SA (South Africa’s leading commercial farmer lobby group) remain optimistic about the future of agriculture in South Africa.

This came to light at this year’s recent Agri SA congress when attendees (most of which were farmers) were asked several questions including a question about their sentiments about the future of agriculture in South Africa.

Using connector devices to choose from three response choices (positive, concerned and negative), 58.2% indicated that they were positive about the future of agriculture, 37.4% indicated they are concerned and 4.4% indicated they were feeling negative.

While farmers’ sentiments about agriculture in South Africa remain positive, this perception could change if instability and uncertainty continue.

Apart from other challenges, the agricultural sector is confronted with, among others, the recent and persisting drought, avian flu (which both rendered some farming operations to complete bankruptcy and left some under enormous financial pressure) and uncertainty around land.

The sector also suffers from the disruptions that come as result of lack of good governance and ethical principles from the government side.

We must remember that the agricultural sector plays a crucial role to ensure national food security requirements are fulfilled to meet the dietary needs and food preferences of people, for an active and healthy life. In addition, the sector is a lever for economic growth and a significant generator of employment in South Africa.

However, lack of stability, certainty, good governance and ethical principles, which are all prerequisites for business confidence, can have an enormous adverse impact on food security and the sustainability of the whole agricultural value chain.

The farming community has noted with great concern the recent cabinet reshuffle by President Zuma. Although the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries was not affected, changing the Minister of Energy for the second time this year is concerning for the farming community and many businesses that are heavily reliant on energy for their operations.

Not only does this reshuffle undermine the efforts made by business (including farmers) to bring about economic stability and job creation, but it also takes the country back another step and is delaying the finalization of a sustainable and affordable energy solution for the country.

Lastly, the fact that this is the 12th cabinet reshuffle since President Zuma took office in 2009. It is a testimony that the current government under his leadership has no interest in creating the much-needed economic and politically stable environment in the country.

Most of these reshuffles were neither rational nor logic but are used as a tool to advance corrupt dealings and to settle the political score. South Africa needs policies that will rebuild confidence in the economy, not political war.

However, it is now clear that, if President Zuma is still at the helm of this country, the confidence that the business fraternity needs will remain a pie in the sky.



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