In SA it will help farmers to protest


In South Africa, it will do little for farmers to protest to make their voices heard, “because here you are sitting with a government that makes irrational decisions and does not realize the importance of food security”.

This is what Bennie van Zyl, general manager of TLU SA, told RNews this week when asked about protests by European farmers currently raging in France.

He says, however, that one must compare apples to apples, because in Europe the agricultural challenges faced by farmers look much different than in South Africa.

It is important that South Africa takes note of the agricultural problems abroad, as the introduction of new policies and regulations can also have a major influence on exports to Europe, according to Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Chamber of Agricultural Business (Agbiz).

French farmers have been protesting since December against, among other things, lower food prices, rising levies for farmers, higher fuel prices and environmental protection rules that they say are unacceptable.

In the past week, farmers also marched with tractors to Paris where they blocked several highways.

However, this situation extends much wider than just France and follows recent protests by Dutch farmers as well as dissatisfaction among farmers in Spain, Italy, Belgium and even Switzerland.

According to Van Zyl, there are many factors that bring about this situation in Europe, one of the biggest of which is the onslaught of the so-called Green movement: The issue that nature is more important than anything else.

“We all have a conservation farming mindset. We realize we have to take care of our resources and therefore you don’t do the wrong things. This is done through good research over the years on the best conservation practices.

“You have to apply these practices, but these things (requirements of the Green movement) go beyond these lines, including the influence of cattle exhaust gases and the use of certain fertilizers. There is also a lot of pressure from European unions that, for example, farms must ‘give back 4% to nature’. However, this is not logical. Some farms may be able to give 20%, others may not. You cannot generalize. People tend to dismiss agriculture with one comb and just say ‘but agriculture has to…'”

Van Zyl says the essence of farming is that it must ultimately be profitable.

“If he’s not profitable, he’s not going to be there next year. A farm is a business entity that has to make decisions that are best for its profitability.”

Subsidies to farmers

Unlike South Africa, European farmers rely heavily on subsidies from the government to keep them afloat.

Van Zyl is of the opinion that these subsidies may have an influence on farmers’ ability to be competitive in a free market.

“I don’t know if they will manage without those subsidies.”

These subsidies are not necessarily cut, but are increasingly subject to environmental regulations.

Van Zyl says what is often left out of calculation, however, is the number of people on earth who need to be fed. He agrees that it is important to use resources optimally, but says that they must also be used sustainably.

“If you suddenly have to halve your livestock and only milk half, as is now expected in some European countries, this will cause challenges.

“Germany, for example, has the diesel rebate. Regulation and measures have an influence on your profitability at the end of the day.”

Van Zyl says farmers in Europe are now finally fighting for their own sustainability.

Environmental measures can hurt exports

Sihlobo says increasing environmental regulations could hurt European farmers’ ability to produce, which would have major financial consequences.

He says it will also be in South Africa’s interest if the EU does not push through all its intended environmental regulations.

ÔÇťAbout 25% of our exports go to the European market. Within the current framework of the EU, there are several challenges for South Africa, as some production practices will not be able to comply with certain environmental measures.”

Sihlobo says that in Europe, protests are an important way for a group to express their objections, while in South Africa there are several agricultural organizations that join the fight on behalf of farmers.

However, South Africa’s agricultural challenges differ drastically from those faced by European farmers.

“In South Africa we don’t really have such fanatical Green pressure groups as are experienced in Europe,” Van Zyl said.

“However, South Africa has its own unique problems, which must also be put on the table.”

Among other things, Van Zyl refers to land expropriation without compensation, increased minimum wages that are becoming unaffordable for farmers, infrastructure problems and the enormous security situation on farms.

“Those people don’t know such things. They sleep with the doors open,” says Van Zyl.

“With us (in South Africa) you have to fight every night to hope you are still alive the next day to be able to farm. It is a completely different culture that we have here. We don’t get subsidies and we have an absent government that doesn’t provide disaster or emergency aid.”

Van Zyl says that when the government does give aid to farmers, it is for small-scale farmers who produce only 3% of the country’s food basket, while commercial farmers – who guarantee food security – are excluded.