Graaff-Reinet farmer new Agri EC President

AUGUST 6, 2015

Graaff-Reinet farmer, John Douglas Stern, was on Wednesday elected as the new president of Agri Eastern Cape at the 2015 Agri Eastern Cape Congress, which is being held at Mentorskraal near Jeffreys Bay.

Stern is also a vocal leader of the anti-fracking lobby in the Karoo.

"His fearless efforts in opposing shale gas exploration should stand him in good stead as he takes over the leadership during a testing time for the farming sector," Agri EC said in a statement.

Outgoing Agri EC President, Ernest Pringle, will be moving up to the national structures as chairman of Agri SA’s agricultural development portfolio.

The congress also discussed the emotive issue of land.

Farmers posed questions to the panel of experts about issues ranging from ceilings on land size to the proposed 50/50 framework of ownership sharing between farmers and workers.

The panellists were Agri SA president Johan Möller, Agri EC President, Ernest Pringle; former ANC MP, Salam Abra; DA Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Annette Steyn, and Deputy Director for the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (Nelson Mandela Bay office), Mxolisi Ngangani.

Ngangani said his department was committed to land reform and had plans in place but would only know if they were workable once implemented.

Möller responded that knowledge and competence in driving the process were more important than political will and that shifting goalposts and red tape created mistrust.

Summing up the lengthy discussion, executive director of Agri SA Hans van der Merwe said farmers had a responsibility to do what was right and implement sensible transformation.

“It’s an imperative and we are committed to creating a viable and sustainable sector.”

However, he said, what agriculture and government deemed viable differed greatly, as evidenced by the congress’s rejection of the land ceilings and 50/50 framework as unworkable.

Van der Merwe said a lack of cooperation from government as well as a lack of a comprehensive and cohesive approach was worrying.

He said the criteria for beneficiary selection was also flawed and that free enterprise and accommodative financing should play a role.

“Empower people who want to farm, have a passion for farming and are willing to be risk takers.”

He concluded by reminding farmers of their responsibility to speak to their communities and garner support from the people at grassroots level in order to change things at national level.

---additional reporting Agri EC