The new agricultural budget once again focuses too sharply – and wrongly – on the development of subsistence farmers, rather than on proper support for commercial farmers, says Bennie van Zyl, general manager of TLU SA, in response to Minister Thoko Didiza’s budget. This while it is mainly commercial farmers who put food on South Africans’ tables, and not subsistence farmers, he says.
The budget of just over R17 billion for the 2023/24 financial year was presented to parliament on Tuesday by Thoko Didiza, minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development.
Didiza says that the budget will promote food security in South Africa.
In her budget speech, the minister referred, among other things, to progress with the vaccine crisis that has been ongoing for the past few years. According to Didiza, the budget will also focus on transformation in the agricultural sector, the promotion of emerging and small-scale farmers and entry into new markets.
Didiza said in her speech that the agricultural sector grew by a cumulative 25% in real added value and approximately 55% of the value was generated from export earnings between 2020 and 2022.
“During the same period, the sector created around 50,000 new jobs, bringing the total number of people employed in the sector to 860,000. About 9% of agricultural output is produced by previously disadvantaged farmers, implying that the sector is growing and steadily improving on inclusiveness.”
However, this is still far from the government’s vision of a “united prosperous agricultural sector”, says the minister.
“Through the agriculture and agro-processing master plan (AAMT), we have set transformation targets to ensure that our sector is inclusive. The growth in agriculture can be attributed to the improvement of its competitiveness, which was made possible by clear policy, regulatory environment and financing instruments such as the statutory measures and agricultural trusts which financed, among other things, the collection of operational data, market development, transformation and research.”
Didiza further said that support of black producers is an important vehicle to achieve the desired transformation in the agricultural sector.
Progress with vaccines
Progress has been made to tackle the vaccine crisis and steps are being taken to increase stability Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) to ensure.
“The protection of our herd and animal health is a priority for a prosperous livestock industry. The OBP, which has been the basis of critical vaccine production in our country, has experienced production challenges in the past few years,” said Didiza.
“I met with the National Animal Health Forum and undertook to ensure that we bring stability to the OBP. I was part of ventures between the OBP and a world-renowned pharmaceutical player to help the OBP produce vaccines. This private sector player has already visited the OBP and measures are being taken to help the OBP produce essential vaccines.”
The minister also said she was aware of concerns about critical vaccines against African horse sickness and bluetongue, both of which are controlled diseases.
“I can confirm that the registrar and director of agricultural input control have received applications for bluetongue vaccine. This application will be accelerated to recognize the urgency of such a registration.”
Didiza further said that the pace to ensure the country’s ability to produce foot-and-mouth vaccines and certainty regarding animal health had gained momentum.
“Following re-registration as a livestock product under Act 36 of 1947, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) can now use its vaccine as part of the department’s foot-and-mouth disease prevention programme. The ARC has formulated 20,000 doses of the vaccine and made them available to the department to be distributed as and when needed.”
Didiza says to ensure that the country has sufficient capacity to produce the FMD vaccine in the future, the ARC has completed phase 1 of the laboratory.
“While the factory is being developed, investment for medium-scale production capacity has also started with the support of the department, and this will put the country in a much better position.”
Where do commercial farmers fit into the budget?
However, the agricultural organization TLU SA is concerned that commercial farmers do not enjoy the same support from the department as from the other issues that are being concentrated on.
“Although the minister believes that this budget will allow the department and industry to ‘continue to meet the food security needs of the country’, she also mentions that only 9% of agricultural output is produced by emerging farmers.
“Nowhere in her speech did she refer to how commercial farmers, who have been producing food for years and generations, are successfully assisted,” Van Zyl said.
“It is extremely difficult for commercial farmers to remain positive when the state has little interest in assisting them, and the mechanisms such as Onderstepoort that they are supposed to support do not even manage to have vaccines available for sheep and horses. “
Van Zyl says TLU SA understands that investment must be made in the development of new farmers to meet the demand for food and that the organization has indeed already offered to share knowledge and experience about this years ago. However, this should not be at the expense of the farmers who are already doing it under very difficult conditions.
“The investment made to support emerging farmers does not justify the exports they achieve. For example, the department spent R50 million in the past year to develop 124 citrus farmers. They export only six million of the 128-million boxes of citrus fruits.
“It will mean much more for the development and sustainability of agriculture if the government focuses on assisting commercially profitable farmers rather than ‘economic restructuring’.”
According to Van Zyl, a budget of R17 billion also goes as far.
“When the largest portion is invested incorrectly, it puts food security in the balance.
“Since the policy around agriculture is also wrong, it goes without saying that the budget will be used incorrectly.
“We make a serious appeal to the government to move away from the idea of the so-called economic restructuring and recycling policy and instead pay attention to market forces that determine the profitability of commercial farmers – and indeed the availability of food.”
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