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While the debate on land is reaching boiling point in the run-up to the elections, many family farmers from across the political spectrum are uncertain about the agricultural policies and visions of political parties that are competing for their votes. Farmers do not all vote for the same party but share an interest in how policies are developed and implemented, and in which direction South African is being managed.

The commercial agricultural sector in South Africa remains one of the most competitive in Africa and keeps South Africa on course as a net exporter of food. Irresponsible land reform, such as expropriation without compensation, can derail production and competition, and threaten food security. This happened in Zimbabwe, Venezuela and almost every other country that chose this land reform route. Exponents of this policy are unable to give any reliable indication of how the same disastrous results can be avoided in South Africa, however.

Expropriation without compensation – or even at compensation lower than market value – exposes the whole agricultural financing system in South Africa to risks and is not in the interest of agriculture. The Motlanthe Report on Land Reform clearly shows that current legislation and processes can be sufficient enough to successfully follow through with land reform and to create a class of profitable black farmers – provided that corruption, maladministration and nepotism are rooted out.

Water is just as important to the stability and growth of the agricultural sector. Farmers are dependent on a government that can understand the implementation and importance of dams, infrastructure, scrupulous and competent administration of water and the maintenance thereof.

Electricity shortages caused enormous damage to agriculture over the past months. South Africa’s agriculture yearns for an order in which electricity can be delivered to farms affordably and reliably – free from looting, corruption and maladministration. Farmers want to know from political parties how they plan on stopping and reversing the deterioration of Eskom, and whether they are willing to allow farmers (as in Europe) to generate electricity on their farms and sell it to the electricity network at a profit.

Crime remains one of the most significant impediments to agricultural growth: The extent of farm attacks and theft of cattle, produce, game and crops cause repercussions even abroad. Political leadership should launch a clean-up campaign in the police service, and the performance of rural police stations should be managed. When courts rule that the SAPS has neglected its duties, the command structure should be held responsible and be replaced. An effective police service is a prerequisite for stability in the countryside.

Crime does not play the only detrimental role in agriculture, however. Service delivery on municipal level, electricity supply, social services such as education and health, the maintenance of infrastructure like roads, and support of upcoming farmers in rural areas are weighed down by corruption and self-enrichment. Farmers will trust a party that eradicates the deeply-rooted capturing of state resources and that acts against the guilty parties.

Corruption and cadre deployment also claimed its toll in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and restrain the effective functioning of this department. It hinders agriculture’s international competitiveness, while promoting unemployment and poverty. Poor disaster relief during the drought, the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and the struggle to obtain permits and certificates timeously speak of a dysfunctionality that goes much deeper than just incompetent officials.

Farmers – large and small, rich and poor, white and black – need a government that can create a policy environment in which agriculture’s profitability and sustainability can thrive. They want a government that pursues clean administration and promotes a non-racial society without discrimination in the allocation of disaster relief, permits, opportunities or service delivery that is based on skin colour.

In a nutshell: Farmers will vote for a party that take rural development seriously, that knows the production process and goes to trouble to understand agriculture in its entirety.

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