Christo van der Rheede.

The president presented arguably his most important State of the Nation Address (SONA) owing to the unprecedented global Covid-19 pandemic, according to Christo van der Rheede, the executive director of Agri SA.

According to Agri SA, the president outlined a four-point focused plan for defeating Covid-19, accelerating economic recovery, implementing economic reforms to create sustainable jobs and drive inclusive growth, as well as fighting corruption.

Three of these are not new and Agri SA has continued to reinforce that South Africa is not policy bankrupt but remains challenged by the timeous and effective implementation thereof. Reflecting on some key aspects of the address, Agri SA has the following views:

In the midst of the economic damage caused by Covid-19, South Africa’s agricultural sector has performed remarkably well.

In 2020, South-Africa became the world’s second-largest exporter of citrus, with strong export growth in wine, maize, nuts, deciduous fruit, and sugar cane.

Agri SA appreciates the recognition given for the sector, seen that agriculture and the value chain remains a critical player as a contributor to the GDP and should receive further support.

South-Africa has now developed an infrastructure investment project pipeline worth R340 billion in network industries such as energy, water, transport, and telecommunications.

Agri SA welcomes infrastructure development that will benefit the farming community as well as industries in the value chain.

The second priority intervention of the Recovery Plan is to support a massive increase in local production and to make South African exports globally competitive.

Agri SA welcomes this initiative and will actively take part and support the growth of the sector. Poverty is on the rise. Inequality is deepening. South Africa’s unemployment rate now stands at a staggering 30,8%.

South-Africa’s third priority intervention is an employment stimulus to create jobs and support livelihoods. The largest number of jobs will be created by the private sector in several industries as the economy recovers.

The newly announced national minimum wage will undermine the agricultural sector’s ability to create more jobs and to remain profitably. Many farmers have experienced drought for prolonged periods and the pandemic had a devastating impact on many subsectors.

South Africa is experiencing an all-time high in terms of unemployment and any excessive salary increases as gazetted by the Minister of Labour, which will exacerbate the unemployment crisis in the country. Ignoring this fact will be at the country’s own peril.

The fourth priority intervention of the Recovery Plan is to rapidly expand energy generation capacity. The agricultural sector remains ready to plug in and we continue to call upon the relevant stakeholders to partner with farmers to resolve the long-standing energy crisis.

We will finalize and implement the revised raw water pricing strategy and accelerate the establishment of a national Water Resources Infrastructure Agency. Agri SA will take part in processes to ensure a favorable outcome for farmers.

During the next financial year, Agri SA will establish a Land and Agrarian Reform Agency to fast-track land reform. Clarity is needed on the function of such an agency. Agri SA, over a long period, promoted the idea of an SPV to take land reform forward. Crimes like cable theft, railway infrastructure vandalism, land invasions, construction site disruptions, and attacks on truck drivers hamper economic activity and discourage investment.

South Africa has taken steps and will continue to stop these crimes and deal with those responsible in terms of the law. Accelerating the conviction of criminals remains at the core of successfully realizing this feat.

“The road ahead remains a challenging prospect and for us as a nation to weather the storm as well as set ourselves on a desirable trajectory, the government needs to start coming to the party with the implementation of all these and other focus points,” van der Rheede said.