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The Western Cape Agriculture Forum met late in 2016 to discuss future participation in the transformation programmes of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. The Forum was supposed to meet with the department’s chief director in the province on Tuesday morning to get clarification on policy issues, but the chief director indicated at a late stage that they were no longer be available. This was one of several meetings that have been requested with senior officials from the department that they failed to meet.

The Western Cape Agriculture Forum has subsequently called for an urgent meeting with Minister Gugile Nkwinti and the director-general of rural development and land reform, Mdu Shabane. The meeting with the department was requested by the Western Cape Agriculture Forum to discuss certain critical concerns that organised agriculture in the province has with the functioning of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in the province, as well as issues with the District Land Committees and the Agriparks Programme. To date, setting up constructive meetings with the policymakers within the department has been unsuccessful.

The forum has voiced several concerns regarding the transformation process, saying that organised agriculture in the Western Cape has not played any role in the development of the implementation plans for the Agriparks Programme and can’t support plans it was not consulted with.

The forum is mainly concerned with the lack of consultation and that the advisory committees of the Agriparks Programme comprise of people with little or no knowledge of agriculture. The forum is also concerned that areas that were identified to establish these agriparks have limited production capacity to fulfil the agripark concept. Infrastructure around the identified agriparks is either extremely limited or will have to be established from scratch.

Further concerns include:

The District Land Committees have very limited funds for high-intensity agriculture production areas that need substantial investment.
The minister’s consultation process and his advisors place the process under due stress and limited vision.
Processes are being bypassed, experts are not being consulted and political motives outweigh economic success in all these decisions.
The duplication of existing value chains will create white elephants that can’t sustain themselves when government funding dries up in the future.
The Agriparks Programme is being funded by PLAS and Recap programmes, and it seems that the success will depend on private sector investment that is not guaranteed at this point.
A one-size-fits-all approach can’t be followed due to the diversity of agriculture production.
Wasteful expenditure in the form of continuous recapping of the same project is in the order of the day, due to the projects not being viable from the start.
The steamrolling of the agriparks with flawed consultation processes that point to a lack of expertise in the planning phases and the present economic climate will just further place South Africa’s fragile economy under pressure.
The forum specifically states that transformation should be industry-lead and government-supported, not vice versa, and that the department can no longer ignore the expertise of organised agriculture. Organised agriculture is not consulted when plans that have a direct influence on them are put in place, even though the expertise lies with them and not with the department.

The Western Cape Agriculture Forum remains committed to support any initiatives of transformation since the forum recognises the important role that transformation plays in the social and economic development of rural areas. However, the department, minister’s office and other role-players are not on the same song sheet. This causes friction, wasteful expenditure and unsustainable outcomes that need to stop.

Source: AgriOrbit