Wandile Sihlobo | Government - not organised agriculture - has failed black farmers | Fin24

Government institutions are weak and have failed to help black farmers as they should, and it is not the fault of organised agriculture, says Wandile Sihlobo.

2022-01-27 07:00:00 PM

Government institutions are weak and have failed to help black farmers as they should, and it is not the fault of organised agriculture, says Wandile Sihlobo.

Government institutions are weak and have failed to help black farmers as they should, and it is not the fault of organised agriculture, says Wandile Sihlobo.

, which removed government price controls of agricultural commodities and led to abolishing various commodity boards such as maize, wheat, and meat boards.This process occurred as the South African agricultural sector integrated into the global community; hence today, we have an export-orientated agricultural sector that is competitive, with a reach in

several marketsacross the globe.Dr Ntombela acknowledges this positive progress of the sector. But what he decries is that while the sector has progressed on aggregate, black farmers have mainly been the spectators of agricultural progress in South Africa and not part of it.

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deregulation of the agricultural markets , which removed government price controls of agricultural commodities and led to abolishing various commodity boards such as maize, wheat, and meat boards. This process occurred as the South African agricultural sector integrated into the global community; hence today, we have an export-orientated agricultural sector that is competitive, with a reach in several markets across the globe. Dr Ntombela acknowledges this positive progress of the sector. But what he decries is that while the sector has progressed on aggregate, black farmers have mainly been the spectators of agricultural progress in South Africa and not part of it. This is not a new observation. Scholars such as professors Kirsten, Vink, Van Zyl and Van Rooyen have effectively documented much of these dynamics since the late 1990s. There is no consensus if the government statistics record all commercial transactions by black farmers to truly reflect their contribution to commercial agricultural output.  On the point about the removal of farmer subsidies, it is worth appreciating that the South African government didn't have much financial flexibility to pour money on farmers at times, while there were mounting social demands that the ANC had promised the people of South Africa leading up to its election. Still, I don't mention this to say there shouldn't be better-coordinated support to black farmers from that period, but in the context of the economic limitations. The global playing field for agricultural trade was levelled by removing all trade-distorting subsidies – all in the early 1990s during the GATT negotiations . At the same time, the young ANC government was following the lead globally and also arguing that it is"good" to remove the subsidies from the white farmers who have benefited from the support system during apartheid. Unfortunately, the systems introduced by the new government were ineffective, mismanaged and did not reach all black farmers. This is unfortunate as the current government system prevents black farmers from receiving the much-needed support that helped white farmers dominate commercial agriculture in South Africa. As I argued in , Finding Common Ground: Land, Equity and Agriculture :"Since the formation of the Union of South Africa, the government of the day introduced various initiatives, such as the establishment of the Land Bank in 1912 and the establishment of the Farmers Assistance Board in 1925, and the introduction of co-sponsored training programmes for labour in 1929 coupled with state assistance in creating employment. This was followed by establishing irrigation schemes tenant farmer support programmes, developing the local agricultural market infrastructure, and organising agricultural marketing arrangements. There are many lessons which the new democratic government could have learned from these programmes! "Throughout most of the post-unification period, specifically from 1913, the sustained and substantial government support to agriculture was biased towards white (mainly small-scale and impoverished) farmers to commercialise them. Lacking a proportional amount of public support, black farmers suffered as a consequence. The Land Act of 1913 and the Co-operatives Act of 1920 are two key examples of the discriminatory public policies in those years. "The Land Act confined land ownership by blacks to dedicated native reserves, while the Co-operatives Act excluded black farmers from participating in farmer co-operatives. In 1925, the Farmer Assistance Board (predecessor of the Agricultural Credit Board) was established to assist farmers with soft loans in the aftermath of the recession of the early 1920s. Black farmers were once again excluded from accessing these government-backed credit programmes, and they were also excluded from participating in the farmer settlement programmes introduced in the late 1930s." Many government support programmes since 1994 have largely been ineffective in driving the commercialisation of black farmers. Hence, we are stuck with the challenge of"two agricultures" in South Africa. In an