How the government can build credibility in the agricultural sector

Governments can strengthen their credibility over time through a continued commitment to implement policies effectively and efficiently. South Africa did not do well on this point. Due to the poor track record of policy implementation, investors and the general public have become skeptical government policy statements.

Recent examples of this lack of credibility include his handling of two major policy initiatives. The first is the National development plan launched in 2012. The second is the 2019 national treasury economic policy document entitled “Economic transformation, inclusive growth and competitiveness: towards an economic strategy for South Africa”. Neither has ever been fully implemented.

Once disclosed, it was up to the departments to draw ideas to enrich their strategies. But it was not done.

The factors behind poor policy implementation are varied and complex. They range from conflicting ideologies, to lack of capacity within the state and its institutions, to corruption and poor governance in local municipalities.

Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist at Agbiz. Photo: Supplied / Food for Mzansi

But the government seems to realize that the key to success is the implementation of public policies. Take the Reconstruction and Economic Recovery Plan launched in October 2020. The plan focuses on energy security, infrastructure development, green economy, food security and tourism sector, among others.

Contrary to the slow pace of policy implementation observed over the past decade, the government followed through on reforms in the energy sector. It should be noted that this is a sector already beset by crisis.

Elsewhere, the departments of agriculture, land reform and rural development, and trade, industry and competition, have followed sectoral master plans. These included strengthening of local industrial capacities for both national and export markets.

These are developed with input from a range of key stakeholders in each sector. This is a break from the past where the government made plans and ultimately sought feedback from stakeholders.

The master plan for agriculture and agribusiness, for example, included government, farmer organizations, agribusiness, commodity organizations, and workers’ representatives. This process too could suffer from inertia if it is only based on big ideas that are not implemented.

The Ministry of Agriculture and various social partners are in the process of finalizing the master plan for the sector. The document supports the economic recovery plans presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa a year ago. But what will make this particular plan different is the commitment to the implementation and the cost of its activities.

Based on many years of engage with government to the agricultural sector policies needed to make doing business in South Africa easier, I have summarized some steps the government can do to improve its political credibility in the sector. I also made a list of what the private sector can contribute.

What the government can do

The first useful step the government could take would be to implement any regulatory interventions that require less capital. In the case of agriculture, it would be:

  • handing over land already on government books to beneficiaries with negotiable land rights;
  • improving the effectiveness of various regulations in the livestock and animal hygiene sector, which would help boost exports;
  • improvements in the efficiency of registering new agrochemicals that can help make farming more efficient.

It should also redefine the priorities of the national budget in accordance with the interventions of the master plan. This will testify to its commitment to ensure its success.

Another important intervention would be for it to support state entities such as Transnet to improve the efficiency of ports. This should go hand in hand with intensified efforts to open up more export markets for South African agriculture. Then there is the Land and agricultural development bank. The government should speed up the resolution of financial challenges. Solving them would allow the bank to play an influential role in the deployment of the agricultural master plan.

The government should release the land it owns to new beneficiaries with long-term negotiable land rights or title deeds.

It must also eradicate corruption at different levels within the department to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the staff.

Finally, the government must take steps to reduce bureaucracy and bureaucracy, and update legislation.

For example the Fertilizers, Feeds, Seeds and Medicines Act, 1947 which regulates the registration, importation and sale of fertilizers, farm foods, seeds and certain remedies dates from 1947. Of course, it does not reflect the realities of the 21st century. Agrochemical suppliers and seed companies are struggling to introduce new technologies into the country because they are not covered by the law. Yet technologies are essential for boost agricultural productivity.

Then there is the Agricultural Product Standards Act which regulates the definition, classification and classification of most agricultural products. The problem is not with the law itself but with how the government has chosen to implement it through a set of regulations for each product. These are expensive and require an audit which increases production costs.

The Department of Agriculture assigned execution from the law to various entities whose services are to be paid for by the private sector. This adds even more to operating costs which in turn are recouped through higher retail prices or lower profits for producers.

What should the private sector do?

The private sector also has a role to play. The first step should be to build trust between the different organizations of farmers and agribusinesses in order to have a unanimous voice from the private sector to the government.

Private sector actors must also recognize the need for collaborative efforts to rebuild South Africa and develop the agriculture and agri-food sector. An example of this is that they could develop partnerships with new farmers entering the development programs of various commodity organizations.

The private sector should also participate in initiatives to help finance new entering farmers.

Finally, it should showcase and expand partnership programs that have proven successful in various products and regions of the country.

Dealing with the legacy of apartheid

The history of South Africa is unfortunately still reflected to some extent by farmers’ associations and producer groups. There are some who represent largely black farmers, and others who are largely white farmers. This division contributes to the various messages sent to the government. Ideally, farmers’ organizations and groups should, at least on general issues, strive for a unanimous voice. But the key is to build trust so that each participant can take comfort in knowing that their views are represented.

The two lists are not exhaustive, but the proposed interventions could shake things up in terms of translating ideas on paper in various plans into concrete projects that could contribute to growth and job creation in southern agriculture. African. The government’s priority should be to build its credibility. This could be done by listening to businesses and social partners and by quickly implementing the least costly programs in financial terms. This will demonstrate commitment and prove to be an encouragement for all stakeholders.

This article was written by Wandile Sihlobo and originally published by The Conversation Africa.

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Lana T. Arthur