Agricultural Extension and Advisory Symposium
Colleagues, commercial farmers, new farmers, members of the press: thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
Ladies and gentlemen, as government officials, we are working within a very large organisation with huge responsibilities towards millions of people in our country. When officials do their work diligently, the state is like a well-oiled machine, and almost invisible to the citizens we serve. But when we do not do our work, the results are often spectacularly bad.
Remember Eskom in 2008/2009, with rolling blackouts and then the steep increases in the electricity tariffs thereafter?
Remember the crisis in certain provincial departments of Health that are unable to pay their bills or deliver basic services?
South Africa is currently in shock as new events surrounding Limpopo Province, and in particular the Limpopo Education Department, unfolds.
These examples show us how things can deteriorate slowly and unassumingly over a period of time. But then you reach a tipping point, where there is no coming back from.
As agricultural officials, it is our duty to prevent the slow decay that can lead to the collapse of the sector we serve - Agriculture.
There are more than enough challenges facing agriculture as it is:
- Increased international competition. Our poultry industry is currently challenged by very cheap Brazilian imports.
- Foot-and-mouth disease and Avian influenza are preventing us from exporting red meat and ostrich meat. These industries are losing millions each month, and thousands of job opportunities are at risk.
- Climate change is a long-term risk factor that will impact negatively on our ability to produce crops unless we do the needed research. Climate change and food security challenges are directly linked with one another.
- Our natural resources are under pressure. Agriculture is a major water user in South Africa, which is a water scarce country. Water management in South Africa is at great risk of becoming another example of something deteriorating to the point of no return.
- Farming profitability is under pressure due to rising input costs, while at the same time the public is concerned about above-inflation food price increases. The value chains in food products have become long and intricate, often distorting the farm gate price of a commodity on the one hand, and the price that the consumer sees in retail stores, on the other hand.
All these challenges have to be negotiated in a nervous international economic climate. Our traditional European markets are struggling and we have to develop new markets in BRICS and in the East.
But our farming challenges are also compounded by political challenges:
- Due to our country's violent and dividing history, land will always be used as a highly emotive political tool.
- Land reform affects agriculture directly, as it is often productive commercial land that is subjected to restitution claims.
- The various land reform initiatives of our National Government has up to date not achieved its goal of establishing black landowners who could use the land as a means of creating prosperity for themselves and their families. This has resulted in a feeling of disillusionment and restlessness amongst the poor and marginalised of our country.
Colleagues, with the above in mind, we, as government officials working in agriculture, have a crucial role to play in the broader context of the South African economy. I am sure each and every one sitting here today will agree with me on the following objectives:
- We want to see successful commercial farmers. They must provide the nation with food security, create job opportunities and stimulate value-adding economic activity.
- We want to see successful new farmers, who progress to commercial status with our support. These new farmers are essential for economic growth and to help reduce the extremely unequal nature of our society.
- We want to see successful land reform projects in agriculture. Successful land reform is absolutely essential if South Africa is going to be able to deal with its past, and then focus on the future as a united nation.
Colleagues, why is it that when one speaks to agricultural role players, or read the opinions published in our newspapers and agricultural magazines, that one is left with the feeling that the successes we desire are not happening?
As responsible officials, we need to be critical of ourselves and ask whether we are on the right track to achieving our goals. This symposium is the perfect platform to do exactly that.
If we want to be successful, good team work is essential - team work between the different spheres of government, and also team work between government and the private sector. I think you should spend time discussing these relationships, and how they can be improved and strengthened.
Successful outcomes are only possible when officials take responsibility. In South Africa, a culture has developed where government officials do not take responsibility and therefore never take decisions. Then nothing happens. Make decisions and take responsibility for the outcomes. Sometimes it is very hard to do this, but we have to do it in order to support agriculture.
Successful outcomes are based on sound policies. In South Africa, we have an abundance of very good policy documents. We do not need more policies. We need implementation. Implementation is the responsibility of officials. Use this symposium to discuss the challenges you face in implementing policies. Also use this symposium to find solutions to improve policy implementation.
Colleagues, once the symposium is finished, we have to go back and do the work we are responsible for. It is my wish that this symposium will equip you with the tools you need to do your job in such a manner that the agricultural backbone of South Africa will stay strong and healthy.