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Farming reform will mean changing policy, says Joemat-Pettersson

AGRICULTURE, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said on Thursday she could not promise the agricultural sector complete policy stability, as the government is committed to pursuing transformation imperatives, including land reform and rural development, that require policy and legislative changes.

Land reform in South Africa continues to be a thorny issue. Debate around it has dragged on for almost two decades, creating a lot of uncertainty in the agricultural sector.

Earlier this week, the National Assembly approved the Land Rights Amendment Bill, which reopens land claims for those who were forcibly removed from their land from 1913 onwards. Both the Freedom Front Plus and the Democratic Alliance opposed the bill, but for different reasons.

Speaking at the Agri-sector Unity Forum policy conference in Stellenbosch, Ms Joemat-Pettersson said the National Development Plan (NDP) “proposes a differentiated rural development strategy, which has agriculture as an essential component. The NDP advocates agricultural development based on successful land reform, employment creation and strong environmental safeguards.”

The NDP’s overall framework committed the government to “transformation imperatives”, including land reform and rural development, most aspects of which required policy and legislative changes. “So I am not going to promise complete policy stability. I cannot just accept the status quo. But what I can commit to you is to ensure that your voices are heard in the policy space and that you have an opportunity to influence the outcomes,” said Ms Joemat-Pettersson.

The minister said the drop in farmer numbers, the absence of young entrants in the sector, job losses and agriculture’s declining share of gross domestic product all pointed to a sector that had been in decline since the 1970s.

“We have to reverse that trend, and have agreed that a number of issues need to be considered to do this. In part, we must all do our bit in building the image of the sector,” Ms Joemat-Pettersson said.

“On a practical level, we have also agreed on the need to focus on the cost of inputs. The cost of labour, and of fuel and electricity, make farming a marginal activity in many areas. We need to find a way to reduce the cost of these essential inputs and determine if there are ways to subsidise or protect farmers without distorting markets or contravening World Trade Organisation regulations,” she said.

The “simple fact” was that South Africa had left farmers to their own devices and to the vagaries of the market, while other countries supported their farmers, she said.

The Agri-sector Unity Forum is a voluntary association of agricultural associations established in 2012 primarily to develop consensus policy positions on strategic issues in agriculture, and to advocate consensus positions to the national government, regional institutions and the international community.

Forum chairwoman Ntombi Msimang said policy positions on land reform, labour relations, safety and security, water and infrastructure would be subjected to further debate and scrutiny.

Source Business Day, Bekezela Phakathi

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