ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Good day Johannes.
JOHANNES MöLLER: Good day Andries.
ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Johannes, this year’s congress theme was ‘Geared for the Future’. In a nutshell, what were the main thoughts behind this theme?
JOHANNES MöLLER: Our theme was Geared for the Future, and it doesn’t help if you gear yourself for the future and you’re not paying attention to how we can recover growth within the agricultural sector and rural areas and determine what the most important aspects are. So the aspects, if that’s your approach, are things like land reform and social circumstances within the rural areas, because urbanisation is taking place at such a rapid pace – we’re urbanising at a pace of more than 600 000 people who move from the rural areas to the cities per year. We have to make the social circumstances and the economic circumstances in the rural areas more acceptable. Our perception studies showed that our farmers are getting too old. We need to encourage a process of getting younger farmers into the sector, we must implement land reform as it also creates opportunities and work together with government and the governmental sector on a local level, in other words the local government, to ensure that agriculture stays an attractive vocation and that it stays sustainable to ensure food security but also ensures the sustainability and profitability of our agricultural sector. So these are the challenges. We’ve also given women the opportunity to make their contribution by telling us how they perceive rural and social development, and they also have a much stronger presence than in the past. In the end I think a very positive message on agriculture and rural development that will contribute to food security and the future of South Africa.
ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Johannes, that was quite a mouthful. Can you list some of the most important aspects that were raised during the talks – those essential issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, now or in the future?
JOHANNES MöLLER: Last year we’ve developed a framework on how we see the future of land reform. We basically want to shift land reform from the ideological approach the government follows to an economical or business approach in which farmers will voluntarily want to take part in, and from last year’s decisions we’ve focussed on two main discussions this year. The first is how we can improve the social circumstances of farm workers who already have a job and a house. And our approach focusses on the wife of the farm worker, to help her develop as an entrepreneur which then gives her the ability to make a contribution to the household income, so we don’t only have to raise the worker’s income which runs the danger of mechanisation, but also to increase the household income outside the farm. On the other hand we also have the training of children and social circumstances. How are we going to make this sector more attractive? Also, how are we going to shift land reform for it to make more business sense? And at the same time get younger farmers to enter the agricultural sector while implementing land reform as well – how are we going to do it? And here we have to negotiate a financing proposal with the government and role-players within the financial services sector that will give us a multiplication factor on the funds government will make available for land reform, especially via the future shareholding schemes. This involved a lot of work. I think if we do this, agriculture will become a more attractive option for younger people and this process of renewal will automatically happen. I’m excited about the financial implications this will have on the sector, not just in terms of rejuvenation but also in terms of unlocking capital for existing farmers, the acquisition of a scale of benefits through new businesses but also in terms of the development of the agricultural sector. All of this is included in a financing proposal that will eventually form part of a special vehicle which will add momentum to agricultural land reform and transformation. These are the aspects that were pointed out during the perception studies, which were done on a professional level, within and outside the agriculture. In other words, between producers but also the consumer.
ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Johannes, a host of high-level delegates and participants outside AgriSA – representatives of government amongst others – attended the congress. What were the commercial messages they gave to the commercial agricultural sector?
JOHANNES MöLLER: The golden thread throughout the conference was one of cooperation. The Minister of Agriculture was our opening speaker, advising that the agricultural sector and government must increase its cooperation in order to guarantee the ultimate goal of job creation, sustainability and food security under circumstances that aren’t always that easy. The Minister of Land Affairs was abroad and couldn’t attend the congress, but his deputy did attend and stated that while we’re busy developing these concepts and working on government’s concepts – remember, our technical task force is working with government’s interdepartmental task force – we need to get together and develop a memorandum of understanding. I also believe they’re making a lot of suggestions on policy, just like we do, and here we must identify a memorandum of understanding to accelerate land reform and take it forward in a more sustainable manner to benefit the whole country. Minister Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, also attended the congress and he highlighted the importance of working together and how we can support their Back to Basics programme. So throughout the conference, there really was a message of ‘let’s work together for the benefit of primarily the agriculture and rural sector, but also for the whole country. It was a high-level congress where decisions were made and mandates where given that will take the agricultural sector forward.
ANDRIES VAN ZYL: Johannes, where do we, as a country, currently stand with implementing an effective large scale land reform transformation process?
JOHANNES MöLLER: This is mainly the reason for more constructive cooperation. Government has acknowledged that the land reform projects put in place are too costly and have not yielded much success. If you look at the study done by the National Development Agency, they estimated that it will cost around R10 million to establish a successful commercial farmer – R7 million for buying the land and another R3 million on equipment and so forth. This puts you within the upper 4% of the richest people in the country, and the government cannot afford to proceed with this approach. We suggest a different approach, which also retains expertise on the existing agricultural sector’s side and addresses an effective land reform, so that we can finally achieve a successful transformation and land reform process without placing enormous pressure on revenue – which is currently the case with the land reform process – and ensure a compounding effect which will lead to greater success than what is currently achieved. This can be done, and that is why we have developed and underwritten these viewpoints with the farmers of this country.
ANDRIES VAN ZYL: In conclusion, what are the current challenges in implementing these viewpoints, not just from the agricultural side, but also for other interest groups?
JOHANNES MöLLER: I think the current challenge is to have this message of cooperation formalised, firstly with government and also within the financial services sector, and to get buy-in from both so that funds can be made available to move forward. This is our main focus this year, and then to be able to approach farmers and say ‘here is a business opportunity to pursue, it will unlock capital, encourage development, enable benefits and cooperation with local government to ensure the establishment of a sustainable agricultural sector over the long term, which in turn can guarantee better food security. This, I think, will remain the primary message.
There is a lot of work that lies ahead for next year, and we will need to achieve results.
ANDRIES VAN ZYL: That was the commercial agriculture organisation AgriSA’s president, Johannes Möller.