South Africa farm strikes

Land reform and radical economic transformation. I got no reply from our President to this letter I sent him.

To President Zuma

This letter relates to your calling for radical economic transformation in South Africa, which is apparently going to happen when farmland (specifically white owned) is taken without compensation.

Before we delve into this issue lets be clear that this is just another example of the tactic, by your ANC primarily, to divert from your mismanagement of the country whilst you try to loot what remains. It is directly from the Robert Mugabe textbook on governance. Examples abound, the most recent being the Coligny drama. (See Rian Malan’s article on this)

Increasing desperation is the sign that accompanies the loss of hegemony.

First, who is going to feed the people if all the white farmer’s land is taken? From your rabid support of Mugabe it appears that you are ignoring the fact that Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Africa but since your hero kicked all white farmers off their farms the country cannot feed itself and has to rely on donated food. Those white farmers have found work elsewhere but their farm labourers have not been so lucky.

Second, there’s no point in taking land from white farmers if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to ensure that this land stays productive. Not a single land claim farm in this country, managed by the claimants, has remained productive. That is a massive failure on the part of the ANC. Some farm workers could become farm managers but this requires prolonged investment in their training and as you well know your government has little interest in the hard work of teaching skills and consequently uplifting people. Organised agriculture throughout the country has made many offers to government to help in this regard but it has been repeatedly rebuffed.

Third, at least 80% of white-owned farmland is in turn owned by the banks so by taking the land you’ll be unburdening the banks of their load. Do you really want to do this? That does not suit another of your myths, namely white monopoly capital.

Fourth, the people are sick. South Africa is the third most obese nation on earth. There are many reasons for this however the primary reason is that the people are being fed the wrong food. Imagine the impact if you spent your energy on encouraging farmers to grow food that nourishes humans and heals the land, regardless of the age, sex or skin colour of the farmer. Sustainability is an outdated idea. Regenerative agriculture is the future.

Fifth, how does your scenario play out in the Western and Northern Cape? The original inhabitants, the San, have been practically exterminated therefore there are no possibilities for land claims.

Sixth, the government is the biggest landowner. It is black. The second biggest landowners are the tribal chiefs. They are also black. The chief’s land, being generally the most fertile, has the most potential to produce food for the people however it is overgrazed and mismanaged. Your clearly don’t have the courage to take on the chiefs and so instead you try to bully white farmers, most of whom are making a humble living on marginal agricultural land.

Arguably the best example of how economically sterile land has become productive is the Amadlelo Agri project in the Eastern Cape. This is how land claims should be handled.

Next time you are in the Cape, Mr President, allow me take you around our farm near Stellenbosch where we can discuss how regenerative agriculture creates jobs, nourishes humans and heals the earth.

Yours sincerely

Farmer Angus

16 May 2017

The role of the retailer in the farm strikes.

Alternative title “It is not only the farmers fault”

Hello Dear Reader

The recent farm strikes need to be viewed in a wider context. From the farmer right through to the end consumer. We are all farmers by proxy, each and every one of us exercises that vote at least three times a day, and by choosing what food we eat and where we buy it, we choose which farmers we support.

I am not attempting to absolve farmers of responsibility to treat their staff well, pay them well (the ANC government set the minimum wage so their comments are mere political opportunism), treat their animals humanely and ensure safe and comfortable working conditions. I would like to focus on the retailer’s role (the big national chains) as they set the price for most of the farmers.

The old joke about a farmer complaining the least in February because it is the month with the least days alludes to the fact that the farmer is being pressurised from all sides, at all times. The primary pressure comes from the income side where prices and payment terms are driven by retailers. The role of the grain traders in artificially moving prices is a topic of discussion for another day. On the expense side the pressures are the ever increasing input costs such as fuel, chemicals, seed, veterinary costs, soil balancing costs and labour costs. Other pressures include the weather (ZZ2 recently lost 140 hectares of tomatoes in a hail storm) as well as having a mostly uneducated workforce.

The retailer’s greatest pressure is to sustain profitability and if you really want to own its shares then it must continue to grow earnings. The easiest way to do this is to squeeze the suppliers. Lets take the example of milk. A certain retailer pays the farmer R2.50 per litre for the milk and then sells it at R10.00 for that same litre. If the farmer is lucky he gets paid 30 days after statement but that is more likely to be either 60 or 90 days. (Walmart/Massmart being the exception paying every 14 days). I am not trying to trivialise the work of the retailer. However the farmer has taken the risk to produce the milk. He has had to keep the animals healthy, make sure they are fed, his staff are on time every day of the year to do the milking, his cows conceive, his dairy is kept hygienic, once milked that the milk stays chilled until the retailers truck arrives to cart it away yet he only gets ¼ of the price the consumer pays and he has to wait a minimum of 30 days from the statement at month end before he gets money that the retailer received the moment the customer paid for the milk. In no one’s definition is that farming for the future.

A farmer very near me received R6 per kg for beans last week that the supermarket sells on for R25 per kg.

Why does our government not insist on transparency in the food chain? The agricultural group Sekem in Egypt has managed a transparent association chain which satisfies everyone. A transparent food chain will be of benefit to farmers who can share this information with their workers and also be of the benefit of the end consumer who gets to see where his food Rands are being spent.

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