There remain a number of hot topics on the agenda for East Cape farmers, including climate change, drought conditions and land expropriation
Land, water and climate change were under the spotlight
The contentious issue of land expropriation, the proper management of dwindling water resources to ensure food security, and the impact climate change will have on coastal communities were among the hot topics when Eastern Cape farmers gathered for their 17th annual congress in early August 2018.
Agricultural body Agri Eastern Cape played host to the conference in Jeffreys Bay this year. The event featured a lineup of speakers including academics and industry experts who addressed the significant issues affecting farming in the province.
Keynote speaker Angelo Fick launched proceedings with an in-depth look at the complexity of land issues. Fick, the director of research at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute, is also known for his role as a senior researcher and news analyst.
In response to the land question, Fick discussed how changes in ownership structures demand creative thinking to solve this multifaceted problem.
“There are two conflicting aspects to land expropriation,” he said.
“We are trapped by politicians who are working towards their own agendas which, I believe, are influenced strongly by the upcoming elections, and also by landowners who are afraid of change.
“But all the talk about who owns the land misses the point. You also have tenant farm workers whose ancestors were buried on the farm, and who will be buried there themselves.
“They and their children attended school on the land.
“There is a sense of history, and they need to be afforded some kind of rights.
“However, while there is still a long way to go, there are already structures in place, models which are already working, under which landowners co-operate with tenants, and vice-versa, to achieve harmony.”
Climate change and what is being done to aid water saving were also discussed in depth. The cycle of drought is increasing in frequency and severity, and water security can no longer be taken for granted. Farmers engaged the various stakeholders on this subject and what is being done to come to the aid of farmers in the Eastern Cape .
The havoc caused by the prolonged drought
With the prolonged drought wreaking havoc in parts of the Eastern Cape, the importance of water in ensuring food security is another critical issue. This was addressed by Felix Reinders, president of the International Commission on Irrigation and Draining Irrigation Farming.
Reinders says that with effective water management and good subsurface drainage, improved soil health conditions could be created for successful irrigation farming which, in turn, would assure the country of a continued food supply.
The Eastern Cape regional manager for the South African Weather Service, Hugh van Niekerk, tackled the challenges that climate change is throwing at the province, not only in the immediate term but also over the next 100 years.
He also highlighted the effect that global warming is having on rising sea levels and the impact this will have on coastal communities, as well as on people living inland. Agri SA president Dan Kriek also addressed delegates and provided an overview of the parent body’s activities and interactions with the government and key stakeholders at national level on these issues.