Minister van Rensburg Concerned about Too Many Farm Inspections in Western Cape
Media Statement by Gerrit van Rensburg, Western Cape Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) recently completed its third visit to farms in the Western Cape in less than one year. Farmers are becoming irate with politicians who are seemingly targeting the Western Cape with visits which are not contributing to the advancement of agricultural issues. I share their sentiment.
Last year saw the release of a controversial report, Ripe with Abuse, by the international watchdog, Human Rights Watch. This report described widespread human rights transgressions on farms in the Western Cape. I do not know of a single case, since the release of the report, where a person has been prosecuted by the police or the Department of Labour for any of the alleged human rights abuses described in this report.
During its presentation to the National Portfolio Committee on Agriculture last year, Ripe with Abuse was criticised by all political parties represented on this committee. The report was described by South African politicians as an unscientific, unrepresentative and superficial description of the Western Cape agricultural sector.
I criticised the report as a generalisation of isolated extreme cases. I also requested the authors to provide me with detailed information on the alleged abuses in order for me and my department to act on it. No information was forthcoming, which only added to my scepticism.
In the meantime, farms in the Western Cape are being trampled by politicians on one visit after the other. The same report, which was discredited last year, has since been cited as the reason for inspecting the conditions on Western Cape farms:
- The NCOP conducts three visits: September 2011, April 2012 and June 2012.
- An ad hoc committee, compiled from the 12 portfolio committees, was established to visit farms in June. This initiative was stopped a day before the visits were to commence.
- The Portfolio Committee on Labour visited farms at the end of last year in the Paarl area.
The Western Cape agricultural sector has nothing to hide, and inspections relevant to the sector are welcome. Officials from the Departments of Agriculture and Labour should be spending time on farms doing their respective work. My question, however, remains: Why so many visits by politicians and why only in the Western Cape?
The Western Cape economy is anchored in agriculture. Primary agriculture contributes 3.5% to our provincial economy and creates 127 000 jobs. But this then stimulates 260 000 jobs in secondary activities. Many of these secondary activities rely on agricultural exports. Wine, a Western Cape product, is South Africa's third largest export after mining and car manufacturing.
A negative report, such as Ripe with Abuse, and political visits which create the perception that something is wrong, cause serious damage to our international image and makes it increasingly difficult to defend market share in a very competitive environment.
Export volumes and jobs are directly linked in the Western Cape economy. A 5% increase in export volumes will create 23 000 jobs in our economy. But the flipside is also true: A 5% decrease in exports will destroy 23 000 jobs.
With the above figures in mind, I am concerned about politicians who embark on witch hunt visits to the Western Cape agricultural sector. I also link recent statements by the Western Cape ANC Leader, Marius Fransman, to this phenomenon. He wants to reclaim the province for the ANC by focusing on farm workers. But farm workers are nobody's voting fodder. Farm workers are honourable and well-informed people who can think for themselves.
Why this sudden urge to spend time on Western Cape farms? Why do politicians deem it necessary to inspect farms in the Western Cape, while independent reports indicate the Western Cape is the leader in South Africa regarding socio-economic criteria?
- The Western Cape pays the highest wages in South Africa. Western Cape farm workers are earning on average 50% more than the prescribed minimum wage according to the latest data available.
- Western Cape farms have to adhere to internationally recognised ethical standards in order to qualify for exports. The wine industry's recently launched WIETA is another example of an industry which monitors and evaluates ethical practices on Western Cape farms.
- The Western Cape Department of Agriculture is still the only department in South Africa with a dedicated Farm Worker Development Programme, which channels millions each year towards the improvement and empowerment of farm workers' lives.
- The Western Cape is the only province giving recognition to the important role of farm workers in South Africa. The Western Cape Farm Worker of the Year Competition, initiated in 2002, will see more than 1000 entrants from 16 districts compete in the 2012 competition. The winner will receive more than R100 000. My department's budget for the 2012 competition is R1.4 million.
- The winners of the Farm Worker Competition become members of the Prestige Farm Worker Forum. This body meets regularly with me to discuss issues affecting farm workers.
- The Western Cape Department of Agriculture funds overseas trips for farm workers to gain invaluable insight in their fields of expertise, which is ploughed back into our local sector.
- The Western Cape Department of Agriculture supports new farmer to gain market access. If the quality and quantity of their produce justifies it, this assistance also includes overseas marketing tours.
Tarnishing the image of the agriculture sector is eroding investor confidence. This means no increase in production and no expansion of production facilities. This means no new jobs in the sector. Breaking down the agricultural sector for short sighted political gain is to open Pandora's Box. The negative consequences will be far reaching, starting with job losses and ending with food insecurity.
There are many other important issues in the agricultural sector which demands the attention of the national government:
- We need to help the ostrich industry so it can export again after a ban was placed on all exports in April 2011 due to avian influenza.
- We need to assist te red meat industry, which can also not export due to Foot and Mouth Disease.
- We need to assist the fruit and wine export industry with international marketing and market access initiatives.
- We need to conclude land reform as a matter of urgency. I am in desperate need for more land from the National Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs so as to establish more new farmers in the Western Cape.
- We need better coordination between the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs. Currently their respective support programmes are unsynchronized causing projects to fail.
- Beneficiaries of land should receive ownership, and not only lease agreements from government. This will allow them access to private sector financing in order to grow their businesses.
Politicians wishing to become involved in the agricultural sector and its people should rather focus on issues which would support the industry, rather than disrupting it. Then we will be able to realise targets such as 5% export growth.
Politicians need to ask themselves whether their actions are constructive or destructive in the agricultural sector. The voter public deserve constructive politicians, and destructive tendencies should be punished at the voting booth.