South Africa: Farmers and Unions Are in Agony
By Noko Masipa MP – DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development
During the latter part of the week, AgriSA held its first in-person annual congress after two years of Covid-19 restrictions. Challenges raised by famers and agribusiness on this platform included the Expropriation Bill recently passed by the National Assembly, Eskom’s unpredictable load-shedding, escalating crime, poor road infrastructures and the recent Transnet labour union strikes.
Whilst the President, Minister Didiza and Transnet CEO spoke about their negotiations with the labour union, no assurances were given to farmers regarding the resumption of activities at harbours, halted by the ongoing labour strike. Another round of collapsed negotiations, despite intervention from the CCMA (see letter from Union here: p1 and p2) threatens the lives and livelihood of farmers, farming communities and the country’s food security. Due to a lack of government support, farmers need this foreign exchange income to hedge against the escalating farming input cost risks that they are faced with. If government does not put measures in place to protect farmers and their value chain from union strikes, it will lead to further devastating loss in revenue, jobs and service delivery.
South Africa has only 12 per cent of arable land. Farmers must also obtain higher-than-average debt instruments in global terms from the financial sector to successfully conduct farming activities. The latest figures however show that farmers in South Africa are indebted by over R130 billion, whilst having to compete with countries that are subsidized and those that are farming on arable land. These farmers thus need protection against striking workers, as perishable products have limited shelf life and places them at risk of losing these markets.
This, while President Cyril Ramaphosa is abroad promoting investments after he pledged his unwavering support of the agricultural sector at the recent AgriSA Congress. Furthermore, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Director General, Mr Ramasodi and South African Ambassador at WTO is leading the delegation to engage the WTO on the EU phytosanitary measures that are inhibiting citrus farmers from exporting. These will prove to be wasted efforts if government isn’t decisive on labour union matters that affect agriculture, especially perishable products like berries which accounts for R3 billion in export revenue for South Africa. Investors in the berry industry have threatened to exit if the strike continues.
The DA calls for an immediate end to the strike and requests Transnet to commence clearing the backlog, allowing products to move to their respective markets with the looming table grape and stone fruit harvest season starting in November. I shall also be writing to Minister Thoko Didiza to remind her about the goals of the Agriculture and Agro-Processing Master Plan and request her to publicly condemn the ongoing strike and call for the conclusion of negotiations to bring an end to the strike.