SA farmers complain of poverty, corruption and conflict

File photo Picture:Nokuthula Mbatha

File photo Picture:Nokuthula Mbatha

Published Sep 27, 2022


Johannesburg - Nomsa Ngwenya, a retired farmer, recently released shocking statistics on the farming industry in South Africa after concluding a survey on hundreds of farmers.

Ngwenya, an organic eco-farming authority with a Master’s in Agricultural Science and conservation agriculture, decided to investigate the billions of rands invested into the Agriculture sector over the past decade and why there are little to no results.

Horrified to find that farmers and agricultural industry role players in Gauteng, North West and Limpopo are deeply entrapped in continuous conflicts and corruption, she found that all the billions result in nothing but poverty in a field that could be so affluent.

Despite all investment and South Africa’s rich land resources, the Agriculture industry contributes less than 2.4% of the Gross Domestic Product.

“Our South African farmers have the potential to feed millions. They have land, farming resources, qualifications, but somehow the farms sit fallow or operate at a loss or on government subsidies,” said Ngwenya.

Ms Ngwenya giving a presentation and tips to upcoming farmers. Picture: Supplied

78% of participants surveyed said their farming enterprises were not profitable, while the few who claimed profits said it was less than R50 000 annually.

The survey exposes rife social issues, including financial mismanagement, corruption, theft, conflict, illiteracy, stress and burnout, with 60-70% of the participants saying that they are affected by these issues and that they lead to devastating farm production, expansion and morale.

“Over 70% said they are failing due to lack of resources, while in the same survey, they admit bad financial management, corruption and conflict. Just throwing money at the problem does not resolve the issue,” said Ngwenya.

“The mindset has to change. Our people are not empowered – a very important word coming from a Latin word which means to ‘be able’. They do not feel that they are able. While they have qualifications, they lack the basic soft skills to achieve success,” she continued.

Participants uniformly admitted that the top skills they lack are in the area of business and finance discipline, along with life and leadership skills. Illiteracy was also noted as one of the primary barriers to improvement, especially in rural settings of many agricultural enterprises. Many studies have noted a link between the quality of education, poverty and unemployment.

“Education is not up to par. Even university graduates hesitate to enter farming because of an uncertainty of their skills or potential success. Furthermore, the issue of getting into the market requires food safety certification and training on market access, but farmers shy away from learning these points,” said Ngwenya.

Agripreneurs attending one of Ms. Ngwenya's empowerment workshops. Picture: Supplied

The survey also indicated theft, corruption, and financial mismanagement often leads to internal conflicts, and many other social issues collectively lay at the root of these problems, and farmers need these core skills.

40-70% of participants listed the life skills or soft skills gaps that must be bridged and feel that they are vital to their success, included: project management, team building, conflict resolution, business ethics, personal finance management, communication, time management and leadership.

Earlier this month, the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Reform briefed the standing committee on appropriations (Scoa) on the fourth quarter underspending for the 2021/22 financial year.

The committee was concerned that the department continued to underspend on its appropriated funds. An amount of R1 124bn was unspent, which it attributed to slow spending on support to farmers through the Presidential Stimulus Initiative, as well as other programmes.

“The survey says they feel like they cannot communicate, resolve conflicts, build a team, lead a project or maintain an ethical standard. Nobody will succeed in an atmosphere that lacks these,” continued Ngwenya.

The Quality Council For Trades and Occupation recently published regulations denoting the need for life Skills or soft skills to be a mandatory requirement of any qualification or part-time qualification.

“As an accredited Agri-Seta training provider, I have seen this myself. You have to develop strong life skills in people first, or the technical skills won’t be used. As a person who is very passionate about farming, I really want to play my part in resolving this crisis. I have partnered with NTL Baraka eco-farm, Scientology Volunteer Ministers Life Skills programme and other private corporations to work towards this goal of a flourishing agriculture sector in our country and empowering people.”

“And those life skills were vital in creating the successful and profitable farm I had and passed on to my daughter who carries on being successful,” concluded Ngwenya.

To provide solutions and changes in the field, Ms Ngwenya mentioned that she has been delivering a free professional development and mentorship workshop with farmers and Agri-Preneurs to assist them to develop the skills necessary to achieve success in their farming ventures. And she is willing to travel across Gauteng to start assisting other farmers in being successful.

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