/ 17 August 2018

Black farmers to get state funding

The fishing industry is due for a major shake-up so that black people’s share in the sector is improved.
The fishing industry is due for a major shake-up so that black people’s share in the sector is improved. (David Harrison/M&G)

The Land Bank will get a major cash injection to allow it to increase funding in the form of soft loans to black farmers who have benefited from the government’s land reform programme.

The funding also aims to ensure that all land in black hands, and state land that is lying idle, is “placed under production”.

Last week Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana told the Mail & Guardian the government is also planning a major shake-up in the fishing industry, which he described as the “most untransformed”, to improve the share of black people in the sector.

This will include major changes when quotas are allocated in 2020. A state fishing company will be created to boost the participation of people living at the coast in the industry.

Zokwana said his department’s plan and its role in stimulating the economy had been discussed at the Cabinet’s recent lekgotla.

Greater co-ordination between national and provincial agriculture departments, and between agriculture and other national ministries, was needed to ensure projects were implemented and that assets were used properly, he said.

He added that the policy of expropriation without compensation should not cause panic among farmers because an amendment to section 25 of the Constitution would provide “clarity” about which land could be expropriated and under what conditions.

Zokwana said his department aimed to increase the number of agriculture jobs from 847000 to a million by stimulating farming, fishing and forestry.

Greater focus would be placed on processing and marketing agricultural products, which would create new jobs, rather than exporting raw produce for processing abroad.

The Land Bank, he said, needed “an injection of funding” to allow it to finance and promote new farming and agribusiness projects and assist in improving irrigation.It is also helping to fund drought- and heat-resistant seed cultivars, to help prevent the repeat of job losses such as those experienced in the drought of 2016–2017.

Zokwana did not want to expand on how much was needed or where it would come from beyond saying the “money would be found”.

A shake-up of the fishing industry and the issuing of new licences in the coastal provinces should create another 300 permanent jobs.

“The president made it clear that the aim is to create certainty around section 25,” he said.“We will be cautious …we don’t want to kill the mainstay of the economy.”

Zokwana said some farmers were interested in giving half of their farms to farmworkers and in keeping their farms productive.

According to StatsSA, 109 000 agriculture jobs were lost last year, mainly because of the drought. Zokwana said that a further 3 000 jobs were shed in the agricultural sector in the first half of this year.

Large-scale retrenchments also occurred in the chicken industry because of the drought, feed price increases and the dumping of chicken by other countries.

One of the worst-hit agricultural sectors — and among the first to benefit from government’s stimulus package — was sugar. This took the form of a sugar import tariff increase and a programme to distribute seed and fertilizer

Siyabonga Madlala, chairperson of the South African Farmers Development Association, an organisation of black sugar farmers, said they welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of the stimulus package and expropriation of land without compensation made after the Cabinet lekgotla. He said that the industry needed further government assistance to transform it from simply producing sugar to producing biofuels and other products.

The organisation met Ramaphosa in March to appeal for intervention in the sector. Madlala said further tariffs would be welcomed but the initial intervention was positive.

He said government had been forced to legislate expropriation without compensation because of the lack of progress in land restitution and redistribution since 1994.

“We have an inequality gap that was created by apartheid and we have to sort it out. As small-scale farmers who only have access to small pockets of land we support expropriation without compensation,” he said.