Key issues for South African agriculture leadership in the seventh administration

The South African agricultural sector continues to exceed expectations with consistent growth and it remains competitive and agile regardless of the challenges it faces on multiple fronts.  

The sector has shown remarkable resilience over the past 30 years and has introduced innovative solutions and groundbreaking advancements to reshape its potential and build solid foundations for further growth. The interlinkages of primary agriculture to manufacturing and other sectors of the economy confirm that the sector remains a vital and dynamic contributor to the South African economy.

Creating an enabling business environment, ensuring investor confidence, and maintaining policy certainty through stable economic policies, secure property rights, and a supportive legal framework, would be vital to stimulate further growth of our sector. Much-needed investment hinges heavily on the dynamics of the new administration and its use of economic growth levers.

Agriculture is not only vital for South Africa’s economy, but also the sustainability of rural communities, and there is a growing recognition of the sector’s potential to contribute to the growth of the rural economy, job creation, and national food security.

South Africa’s agriculture has the potential to achieve these objectives. However, this cannot materialise if there is a continuous introduction of new plans without properly implementing the existing ones and addressing the fundamental issues that constrain the sector.

Therefore the sector needs a concentrated focus on resolving policy challenges and implementing existing programmes in the various directorates of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development on a national and provincial level.

We should begin by renewing our focus on the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan (AAMP). The participating social partners agreed that the AAMP offers a framework to grow the agriculture and agro-processing sector, build competitiveness, attract more investment, improve inclusion, and create jobs.

Since the AAMP’s launch in May 2022, some stakeholders may have independently initiated projects. Therefore, we should review the AAMP’s objectives and assess the work or projects undertaken by various stakeholders that align with its goals. This review could assist in revitalising the commitment and focus of the social partners.

We believe that beyond revisiting the AAMP,  the new administration should prioritise key areas alongside the AAMP focus areas. While there is already ongoing work in some of these areas, a sustained effort to achieve results will be essential.

These include: 

1. Biosecurity: The livestock and poultry subsector forms nearly half of the South African agricultural economy, and therefore, biosecurity should be recognised as one of the most pressing challenges – the country’s food security and export potential depends on it. The appointment of Minister Didiza’s Ministerial Special Task Team to provide insight on the ways of improving animal health in South Africa was a positive start. The task team’s report provides clear policy guidelines, which should be implemented in the new administration.

2. Agricultural exports: The export-oriented agricultural sector relies heavily on specific services by the South African government. It is only through well-negotiated, favourable trade agreements and other market  access requirements initiated by government, the sector can successfully penetrate export markets around the world, while competing successfully. The rising geopolitical tensions in the world remain a concern, and South Africa should work to open as many export markets as possible to improve diversification, such as India, China, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt among others.

3. Infrastructure – water, roads, energy, ports: Adequate ports and rail are critical to agricultural exports and domestic product distribution.  Government has fallen short in delivering a range of basic services – water, energy, roads, rail, and ports that present risks for the long-term growth prospects of the sector. The ongoing collaborative efforts between Transnet’s new management and the sector at the ports and rail should continue in order to accommodate the expected growth in agricultural products exports. More partnerships between the public and private sector will be required to create a reliable supply of electricity in South Africa and reverse the impacts of loa-shedding.

4. Water rights: There has been sensible collaboration with the Department of Water and Sanitation and various stakeholders to improve the policy dispensation on water for agricultural use. Government’s development of water-related legislation and policy should be continued in seventh administration.

5. Development of rural economies: Properly functioning municipalities and reliable service delivery, especially in the rural areas, remain vital for the success of agriculture and agribusinesses operating in rural towns. By improving roads and the effectiveness of municipalities, the agricultural sector can contribute to job creation and consequently the development of rural economies.

6. Rural safety and crime: Stock theft and crime in rural areas hinder investment in agriculture and the growth of small towns. Due to the vastness of rural farming areas and the long distances from service centres and the police, the farming community are more vulnerable to rural crime. Strategies to address crime in rural areas should be raised on various forums ensuring that improvements are made.

7. Food security: Ensuring affordable, available, safe, and nutritious on a national and household level and to accelerate the eradication of poverty, should be a focus of the new administration. Food and nutrition security requires well-managed inter-sectoral co-ordination, and the integration of existing policies and programmes in health, education, and environmental protection, as well as in agrarian reform and agricultural development. South Africa’s agricultural expertise makes it a key partner for achieving goals to reduce hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in the country.

8. Regular liaison between government and industry: Ensuring consistent and effective government–industry collaboration is essential. Collaboration between government and industry stakeholders and organised agriculture is essential to address the challenges the agricultural sector face. Prioritising agriculture is crucial for economic growth and rural community sustainability

Public–private partnerships have been a part of the South African agriculture success story, while the government had to see to it that policy remained favourable for investors and farmers. Ensuring that there are no interventionist trade policies (blocking exports) or price caps and that infrastructure (roads, rail, water, and energy) is in place, there is strong protection of property, proper land governance, and openness to scientific advancements in seed breeding and agrochemicals and genetics are some of the positives that the new administration should continue to ensure.