Civil unrest adversely affects agricultural sector


In the wake of last month’s violent civil unrest, which claimed more than 300 lives and saw billions of Rands worth of damage to property and infrastructure, two more Parliamentary oversight committees visited affected areas to “assess the impact”.

The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development conducted a joint oversight visit with the Select Committee on Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy to KwaZulu-Natal, epicentre of violence apparently sparked by Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment after he was found guilty of contempt.

The land reform, agriculture, rural development and environment public representatives were number two on the list of parliamentary committees seeking first-hand information on the why’s and what’s of the violence. The “charge” – if it can be termed that – was led by the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) and the Portfolio Committee on Police, under the leadership of Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

Those on the second oversight visit concentrated on the impact of the violence on the agricultural value chain according to a Parliamentary Communication Services statement, visiting sites in and around Durban, including its port, as well as the Midlands and fresh produce and sugar cane producers.

The loss of life was observed to have been the single largest loss resulting from the violence. This saw the agriculture portfolio committee chair Inkosi Zwelivelile Mandela saying: “We tend to forget the loss of one human life can impact the food security value chain. However, we observed widespread impact on the logistics value chain and disrupted access to markets”.

He saw the consequences of “this tragedy” – as he termed the civil unrest – remaining for the foreseeable future as the sector mobilises resources to rebuild infrastructure, restore logistics, replace fleet and re-establish operations. “In some instances, operations will only resume in three months, affecting job security and household incomes”.

“Many agri-sector businesses will be impacted. Small-scale farmers, fresh produce markets and small farmers in the livestock industry are more adversely affected,” he said pointing out they were told many livestock small-scale farmers complained about disruption and shortage of feed supply.

A range of supportive interventions will be required to save small-scale farmers from disaster and bankruptcy. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development will have to make a departmental financial reprioritisation, engage National Treasury and make submissions to Parliament on funding the estimated R1.5 billion required.

“The social cost of food security disruption was exacerbated,” the statement said ascribing it to pandemic and pre-pandemic hunger, poverty and pressure on food security.

The sugar industry is “hugely impacted” and given it is a critical sector for the province, implications are far-reaching.

The committee observed burnt sugar cane fields and other destruction, which caused loss of crops, income, damage to mill infrastructure, loss of jobs, the disruption of the food supply chain and loss of logistics capacity. This is devastating for local and International markets and impacts on exports. The department has to put in place mitigation measures, as it will take time to recover and restore the situation.

Inkosi Mandela’s advice is for KwaZulu-Natal to “vigorously engage President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan (ERRP)”, as well the disaster measures announced by Trade and Industry and Commerce Minister Ebrahim Patel for assistance to restore the agri-sector.