WINDHOEK – South Africa’s small-scale farmers may be paying a high price for the persisting idea of the country’s exceptionalism.
Although it was a pioneering member of the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development, South Africa has not signed up for the NEPAD-inspired Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program.
CAADP is a policy framework for the development of agriculture on the continent, whose goal is to eliminate hunger, reduce poverty and food insecurity, and enable expansion of access to markets.
The perceptions that the country is “much better off” than its regional neighbours sometimes leads South Africa’s government to spurn serious engagement with strategies adopted elsewhere to reduce poverty.
Yet Africa’s most powerful economy is faced with a widening gap between the poor and the rich. South Africa has seen waves of social unrest among its poorest and most marginalized citizens in recent years, with some of these demonstrations resulting in violence – most tragically directed against black migrants from elsewhere on the continent.
South Africa has also declined to join the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which has a mandate to implement the CAADP agenda in Eastern and Southern Africa.
“It seems there is no political will to become active in these. We seem to be want to be seen as non-small scale farmers,” says Thula Mkhabela, senior researcher at South Africa’s National Agricultural Marketing Council.
“Food security can be a market opportunity for small scale farmers in South Africa.”
He said the government should be paying more attention to its small-scale farmers. For South Africa’s small producers, accessing markets remains a problem, aggravating often profound poverty in rural areas. Mkhabela said it was difficult for small scale farmers to be certified or make deals with big retailers because they are unable to satisfy retailers’ standards for consistency and quality.
In 2008, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, challenged government ministers to go with him, village by village, to tell people what would be done to help them kick-start and maintain agricultural production to feed their families.
Ndungane is founder and president of African Monitor, a pan-African body established in 2006 to act as a catalyst to monitor development funding commitments.
Referring to its successful agricultural subsidy programme, Ndungane said: “Malawi has restored faith in Africa by demonstrating that the continent need not become the world’s basket case.”
Dr Nalishebo Meebelo, COMESA’s Country CAADP Process coordinator, said she would want to hear from South Africa why it has not signed up for either COMESA or CAADP.
“That is the same question I ask myself all the time. How come their voice is never heard on these platforms?”
For South Africa to bridge the gap between its parallel rural economies – one commercial, capitalised and highly mechanised, the other essentially survivalist – the government will need to pay meaningful attention to the needs of small-scale farmers.