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Land reform the hot topic at Eastern Cape farmers’ congress

Aug 2, 2018
Land reform the hot topic at Eastern Cape farmers’ congress

Agri EC Congress addresses contentious issue of land expropriation, climate change and ravages of ongoing drought

LAND reform was the major talking point on the opening day of Agri Eastern Cape’s 17th annual congress, following the African National Congress' (ANC) announcement on Tuesday that it would support the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution, also known as the Property Clause, to make land expropriation without compensation more “explicit”.

Agri EC president Doug Stern – who at the meeting was nominated as president for a second term – told the 126 assembled delegates that land reform could work, but only if managed properly.

To this end, Stern said Agri EC’s general council had sanctioned the formation of a “transformation hub”, aimed primarily at engaging with the government on failed land reform projects and finding alternative ways of establishing black commercial farmers successfully on the land.

“We need to make some compromises to take the process forward. We must highlight those successful models such as partnerships and joint ventures that are already working well,” said Stern.

Keynote speaker Angelo Fick, who is the director of research at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI), said the land debate was inextricably linked to issues of race, inequality and poverty in South Africa.

Fick called on farmers to engage strategically with the review process by attending public hearings and making submissions. Ordinary South Africans could not rely solely on politicians and multinational corporations for humane solutions – they needed to find new ways of negotiating the future together, he said, adding that many farmers had already begun reorganising their relationships with their staff.

“It’s an emotional issue for both the farmers who have made an investment and for dispossessed black South Africans. To pretend that those emotions don’t have equal value is absurd,” said Fick.

“It’s all of us together, or none of us at all.”

The land issue aside, Stern said the continuation of the worst drought in over a century and the effects of climate change had made 2018 a particularly difficult year for Eastern Cape farmers – particularly those in the western region, who had received donations of over 22,000 tons of feed from fellow farmers in other provinces.

With Kouga Dam currently at 6,95%, irrigation farmers in the Gamtoos River Valley have been particularly impacted by cuts of 80% in their total allocations for the new water year.

Normal to slightly above average rainfall is expected over the next two weeks in the Kouga area, but drying out again from mid-August, Eastern Cape regional manager for the South African Weather Service, Hugh van Niekerk, told delegates.

“It won’t be enough to fill our dams,” Van Niekerk said.

In the longer term, Van Niekerk said various medium to long-term climate scenarios predicted serious consequences of climate change for the agricultural industry. These include an increase in temperatures, more frequent droughts, more intense flooding and a rise in sea levels and sea surges.

Felix Reinders, the president of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, said water was the key to food security, not just for primary production but at all stages of the agricultural value chain. Reinders said water shortages had decreased yields for crops across the board.

IMAGE: FOOD FOR THOUGHT:Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Stern (left) chats to keynote speaker and researcher Angelo Fick during the organisation’s 17th annual congress in Jeffreys Bay. (Photo: Supplied)