Farmers’ organisation Agri Eastern Cape had their annual congress recently and it showed how, more than ever, ordinary South Africans are working together to solve problems and transform our land.
Held under the theme of “Agriculture Unites Us”, the congress saw farmers, traditional leaders and the South African Police Service coming together to drive agricultural development and fight rural crime.
Speaking on the final day of the congress, Eastern Cape police commissioner Lieutenant-General Liziwe Ntshinga promised her support for Agri EC’s efforts to prevent and solve crime through the introduction of security cameras on rural roads. These monitored cameras currently cover 13 local municipalities, aiding the police’s crime-fighting efforts and benefiting the surrounding communities.
“I am the daughter of a farmworker. I am what I am today because of farmers,” said Ntshinga, adding that she was committed to fighting stock theft, which costs the province’s farmers over R200 million annually.
She said the specialised stock theft unit did not have enough personnel but that working together with farmers to share information and resources could help to overcome challenges.
Ntshinga praised the example of commercial farmers along the Lesotho border, who donated 40 horses for reservist patrols in the area.
Agri South Africa president Dan Kriek said there was no replacement for a well-managed farmers’ association in securing the sector’s future and encouraged delegates to stay positive. “We are the best organised NGO in the country, with a footprint in every town in SA. We are not weak. But we must speak responsibly because we speak on behalf of the whole value chain.”
He said the greatest risk for farmers was not politics, but economics and profitability and he urged delegates not to lose focus in driving the sustainability of the sector.
The two-day congress also saw organised agriculture and traditional leaders committing to initiating agricultural development at an unprecedented scale as a means to sustainable land reform in the Eastern Cape.
The 128 delegates voted unanimously in favour of supporting a mandate to get vast tracts of unproductive land back into production in the Alfred Nzo district, which is also the poorest in South Africa.
In his opening address, Agri EC president Doug Stern described the initiative as the single biggest economic initiative to be embarked upon in the Eastern Cape, adding that key projects were ready for implementation within 90 days, subject to funding.
Presenting a united front, Stern introduced Xolile Ngqameni as chairman of the newly formed Eastern Cape Organised Agricultural Leadership (ECOAL), which represents an association between Agri EC and several black farmers’ associations aimed at tackling sector matters at provincial level.
“We are committed to forging ahead. We are the architects of our own destiny as farmers in this province,” said Ngqameni.
King Madzikane II Diko of the Kwabhaca traditional council in the Alfred Nzo district welcomed the partnership as a means to addressing the high unemployment rate in the region.
“Land lies unused and there is so much potential. Whether or not there is government support, we are going to do this, said Diko, adding that one of the projects was already at an advanced stage.
“The time for suspicion is gone. We need to speak positively if we are going to change the country.”
Chief Khomotsoana Lebenya of the Bakoena traditional council near Matatiele, said his area was fertile with good rainfall and had the potential to become the breadbasket of the Eastern Cape, but that the local people lacked the capacity to develop it.
“Partnering with organised agriculture, we believe that they will assist us to get funding, but we don’t want to live with handouts. We want to work the land. “
The congress also saw the announcement of the Eastern Cape Young Farmer of the Year, Tarkastad sheep farmer Matthew Morgan, who will represent the province at the national competition later this year. Peter Cloete was elected as vice-president of Agri EC.