AS in most countries around the world, agriculture in South Africa has a central role to play in building a strong economy and, in the process, reducing the apartheid-induced inequalities inherited from the past.  

The goal of the policy was to increase incomes and employment opportunities for the poor and establish an environment where opportunities for higher incomes and employment were created for resource-poor farmers alongside a thriving commercial farming sector; simultaneously nurturing their natural resources. 

The land and agriculture policies in South Africa were designed to accommodate the diversity of production in order to reverse the destruction of indigenous farming that occurred in that country as a deliberate act of policy over the past century.  

To achieve the formidable challenge, the Government of South Africa outlined major reform goals in its agricultural policy document in 1998.  

These were namely:

  • To build an efficient and internationally competitive agricultural sector;
  • To support the emergence of a more diverse structure of production;
  • Increase the numbers of successful smallholder farming enterprises;
  • To conserve the agricultural natural resources; and
  • To establish policies and institutions for sustainable resource use.

These changes were part of the broader process of rural development, which included land reform, investment in water supply and transport infrastructure and improved social service delivery.  

The changes were also part of a process of freeing the economy from business-inhibiting aspects of regulation and State intervention.  

Farmers made great progress towards reduced reliance on State subsidies towards sourcing the services they need from the private sector and from farmer organisations.   Future Government funding for services for commercial farming focused on public goods that were needed for efficient growth by the sector, such as rural infrastructure, basic research as well as epidemic and pest control, in addition to seeking higher levels of cost recovery for services provided by the Government.

According to Derek Hanekom, the then Minister for Agriculture and Land Affairs: “They were intended to make a major contribution to achieving the aims of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).  Evictions of people living on the land, farm murders and abuses of farm workers characterised the instability deep-seated in the rural areas.  

A prosperous agriculture, based on co-operation and collaboration, will play a part in removing instability and fear.  

In the agricultural sector, we are already seeing a positive response in terms of production and export performance and in competition in supplying farm requirements and marketing.

Established large-scale agriculture has the potential for increased levels of employment and for improving the welfare of farm workers.  

Encouragingly, many individual commercial farmers have shown in recent years that they can play a constructive role in facilitating and supporting land redistribution projects, which will contribute to social stability and safety in rural areas.”  

The SA government also anticipated a greater role for small and medium-scale commercial farming, based on family-managed farms producing largely for the market, investing in their land, using improved inputs and hiring of labour. 

Poorer rural households, which derived only a small part of their income from farming, were expected to increase  food production, for their own consumption while selling surplus produce to local markets. 

According to the Minister: There is much evidence from Africa, and other parts of the world, that small and medium-scale farming can be highly efficient, can compete successfully in national and international markets, and can create more employment.

This creates a major challenge for all in the sector to ensure that new entrants into agriculture have access to the productive resources and services needed for success.

In future, much greater priority in allocating public funds for the sector will be given to promoting new entrants, supporting the rural poor and providing services that assist their upliftment.”

The management of natural resources is seen by the SA government as the responsibility of all.  

To ensure sustainability and provide livelihoods for present and future generations, the Minister said: “Those who use land and water must have the incentives, resources and knowledge to use them wisely. 

We are removing many of the policy distortions that have damaged the soil and depleted the water resources, and we are creating the conditions for successful farming in the belief that the profitable use of natural resources is a necessary condition for taking care of them. 

We will provide support to community-based natural resource management, and we will use regulations where necessary to prevent abuse.”

Both the international and regional arenas were viewed important parts of their reform agricultural policy document in order to align South African agriculture with the new world trading order, be active on international fora to promote further international trade reforms and engage more intensively in international trade, accelerate exports and compete effectively with imports.  

Protection is provided only by justifiable tariffs and necessary phytosanitary and other controls.  

Regulations would be used selectively but firmly, in the public interest, to ensure that abuses, including the abuse of monopoly and the abuse of our natural resource base, are avoided; while targeted programmes, as cost-effective means of achieving equity and anti-poverty objectives, be introduced.

According to the former South African Minister for Agriculture and Land Affairs:“The role of the Government in agriculture will be based on working as partners with others, including the private sector, farmer unions and voluntary organisations. 

We will promote competition among producers, processors and service providers.

Intense competition among alternative claims on the public revenues means that if we are to be able to continue to make a strong claim for spending on agriculture, we must be able to show that we seek and obtain value for money. 

We need to ensure not only that funds are used only for high priority purposes, but also that the most efficient ways are found to achieve our aims. 

Where we decide that the Government should fund a particular service, our approach will be to encourage the most cost-effective suppliers of that service, and we will be prepared to outsource service provision in a transparent manner to achieve this. 

There can be no assumption that a public-sector organisation has a permanent monopoly of the role of service provider: this right must be earned through effective performance.

The past few years have seen a rapid change in the farming sector. 

It is very encouraging to see the dynamism and adaptability shown by so many in the sector; by new farmers who are taking up the challenge; by established commercial farmers who have responded rapidly to radical changes in the established order; by the private sector, large and small, which is undertaking new functions for new types of clients; and by staff of national and provincial agriculture departments who are closely involved in this process of change.

Much remains to be done to achieve this vision for agriculture. 

All participants in the sector have a shared task, and success will be to the great benefit of all citizens. 

This policy document provides a framework of credible and consistent policies, which allows us to move together towards the future with confidence.”

Dr Tony Monda BSc, DVM, is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology, agronomy and food security and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. 

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