Economist Wandile Sihlobo has said this year’s elections in South Africa has come when the agricultural sector faces serious challenges, thus offering an opportunity to hear whether the political leaders or various parties’ manifestos will speak to the pressing challenges of the sector.
The most pressing issues, according to the Agbiz/IDC Agribusiness Confidence Index results for the fourth quarter of 2023 include intensified delays and inefficiencies at the ports, rising crime, deteriorating rail and road infrastructure, worsening municipal service delivery, rising protectionism in key export markets, increased geopolitical uncertainty and persistent episodes of load-shedding. The slow process of launching the Land Reform Agency adds to this long list of sector challenges.
“This means that the over two million hectares of state land that should have been released to black beneficiaries remain unutilised, undermining not only the sector’s growth but also its transformation and inclusivity,” said Sihlobo.
He said the South African agricultural sector has done reasonably well over the past three decades, having doubled in value and volume terms. The exports reached record levels of US,8 billion in 2022, with employment also at the highest levels since the early 1990s, at 956 000 in the third quarter of 2023. The country has also improved its food security conditions, ranked 59th out of 113 countries in The Economist ‘s Global Food Security Index, making it the most food secure in sub-Saharan Africa and reflecting the increase in agricultural output.
Sihlobo said the sector should look not only to pronouncements of the challenges above but also implementation plans.
“Ultimately, improvements in local governance, delivery of services, maintenance of roads, and release of land for new entrant farmers are essential for the growth of South Africa’s agriculture.”