Accountability. This summarises Free State Agriculture (FSA) president, Francois Wilken’s message to William Bulwane, MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Free State, and his delegation.
According to Wilken, the most important aspect of a relationship between FSA and Bulwane’s department is being accountable. “If we are not going to fix this, we might as well go home,” he said on 5 September 2019 at a meeting between members of the FSA executive management and the department.
Both parties agreed at the meeting, also attended by Dr Tankisi Masiteng, to draw up a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to structure a working relationship between them. Masiteng is the head of the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Rural Development in the Free State.
Wilken insisted that the meeting was not just another opportunity to talk shop with no tangible results, as similar meetings before. Tommie Esterhuyse, vice president of FSA, also stressed that, to move forward effectively, mutual trust was crucial and the department’s leadership should lead by example. “Then we can concentrate on the positives to inspire the sector going forward,” he said while thanking Bulwane for the engagement.
Wilken emphasised FSA’s position on private ownership of land and said that not granting full titles to new entrants into agriculture, via subsidised bank credit, is also holding back emerging farmers.
He praised the Department of Agriculture’s veterinary services and the military for preventing the spread of anthrax from Lesotho into South Africa. However, he criticised the national Department of Agriculture on the handling of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, which cost South Africa billions in export revenue.
Some of the key issues raised by FSA included rural crime and livestock theft impacting the sustainability of farmers (large, small and subsistence) and farm workers. Problems at the Lesotho border, which include arson, crime and the threat of the spread of notifiable diseases due to insufficient policing (manpower, vehicles, investigative capacity and pounds), were also highlighted.
The shocking state of disrepair of rural roads and closing of rural licencing and testing stations was also on the agenda, together with the threat of gas prospecting and mining environmental approvals and the dysfunctional offices of the department in small towns.
Bulwane’s plea to farmers
Bulwane condemned farm murders and all forms of rural crime and acknowledged that government works too much in silos. He said he will relay departmental specific issues to relevant peers and Lesotho counterparts and suggested to meet again in two months to evaluate progress.
He requested FSA to work together to help raise the gross domestic product of the province, and admitted that agriculture was the only sector with potential to grow the economy and create more jobs.
Bulwane made a plea to FSA farmers to share their skills and help new entrants into agriculture get on their feet and gain market access, which will promote sustainable, economically viable farming units. – Press release, Free State Agriculture