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According to the crop estimates committee of the department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries, SA is expected to harvest an impressive 16.3-million tonnes of maize this year.

This harvest is not only the third largest on record, but should also satisfy domestic needs and allow for plenty of maize to be exported. This should be a cause for celebration and speaks to the resilience of our farmers. They operate under some of the most difficult conditions yet continue to surpass expectations and guarantee our food security.

One would expect a caring government to do everything in its power to create a conducive policy environment that rewards productivity and creates jobs in the agriculture sector. Sadly, that is not the case for the country’s hardworking farmers.

New regulations proposed by water & sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu for the issuance of new water licences will pose a huge risk to the agricultural sector and could potentially decimate our fragile food security.

These draft regulations, introduced on May 19, essentially impose race quotas for the allocation of water licences. Under the new quotas applicants who exceed certain water-usage thresholds or withdraw over a minimum amount from water streams will be required to meet strict racial quotas to continue accessing water. Failure to comply will result in denial of water access, thereby jeopardising farmer livelihoods and the food security of ordinary South Africans.

The ANC government has caused huge damage to the agriculture sector through frequent power blackouts. Now it is attempting to expand its ineffective race-based policies by preventing farmers from accessing water, which could lead to the failure of the farming industry. The ANC seems to prioritise pandering to populism by racialising issues in the farming sector, disregarding the hard work exhibited by farmers in feeding our nation.

The economy’s business confidence is already at a low. If these regulations are put into effect they will continue to discourage any future investments in the economy. The Agbiz/IDC agribusiness confidence index (ACI) has reported that SA’s investment rating did not change in the second quarter, after dropping by five points to 44 in the second quarter. In addition, the index level during the first two quarters has been the lowest since its drop in the first quarter of 2020 when lockdown restrictions due to Covid-19 were put in place.

Crucial role

Investors have noted that for SA to experience growth there needs to be a favourable policy environment. However, it is concerning that the ANC would consider implementing regressive water regulations given the numerous failures that have already hindered investments in the economy.

If a country aims to enhance its economic growth it should avoid implementing policies that promote pessimism or lack of confidence. This is particularly true for agriculture, which plays a crucial role in the economy and requires a positive outlook.

Farmers are already using water efficiently due to increased consumption by cities. The agricultural sector has been able to keep the country’s economy afloat due to its valuable exports, despite the obstacles faced by farmers. Taking more water away from them would further harm an already challenged sector.

The DA agrees with the concerns expressed by the business community that this policy will have adverse effects on SA. Organised agriculture vehemently opposes this policy and warns that the new water regulations will not bring about transformation but instead will severely affect local production. It strongly believes these regulations are a policy misstep SA must avoid.

It is concerning that proposed measures by the ANC may worsen the already difficult situation for South Africans who struggle to provide food for themselves and their families. Nearly half live in poverty and are already facing challenges in accessing basic food necessities. Inflation has caused the basic food basket to shrink, making it even more challenging for those living in poverty to put food on the table. The government should incentivise farmers to ensure everyone is food secured rather than making their lives more difficult.

The department has been defending its new regulations by claiming they will increase the presence of black farmers in the industry and promote transformation. However, these regulations are unlikely to achieve genuine redress as they will destroy the commercial agriculture sector, which is a key building block for building a vibrant emerging farming sector.

To promote economic growth and job creation it is crucial to steer clear of anti-growth policies such as the suggested water quotas. Failing to do so would only push SA towards stagnation and malaise, worsening the country’s economic situation.

Masipa is DA shadow agriculture, land reform & rural development minister. 

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