GNU and agriculture: Cautious, not blind optimism, together with urgent action, needed

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GNU and agriculture: Cautious, not blind optimism, together with urgent action, needed
GNU and agriculture: Cautious, not blind optimism, together with urgent action, needed photo credit: Canva

*PRESS RELEASE 

As South Africa emerges from its recent democratic National Elections, a sense of optimism – or even euphoria – may be taking hold among citizens following the news. However, Roelie van Reenen, supply chain executive at Beefmaster Group, urges the nation and those in the agricultural value chain to temper optimism with realism and acknowledge the significant work that still lies ahead.

The elections, a watershed moment in South Africa’s democratic journey, resulted in no outright winner. Political parties have since formed a governing alliance under the Government of National Unity (GNU), with Cabinet appointments anticipated soon. Thokozile Didiza, formerly the Minister of Agriculture, has transitioned to the role of Speaker of the National Assembly, leaving a vacancy in the critical position of Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development.

However, says Van Reenen, regardless of the new leadership appointments, the process or alliances made, problems remain to be solved and work needs to be done.

“The current state of the economy within the agricultural sector is concerning. Primary producers face severe difficulties due to a strained economy, the state of the rand, increased input costs for things like fertilizer, persistent drought conditions, and the impact of grain prices on consumer affordability. The beef sector – amongst others – in particular, is struggling, compounded by the economic devastation of rampant Foot-and-Mouth disease, which, while not fatal to livestock, is economically crippling,” says Van Reenen.

The broader economy also reflects these strains. The retail industry is under significant pressure, with Pick n Pay – a leading retailer in South Africa – recently having announced that it is in serious trouble and technically insolvent.

Van Reenen adds that this in part points to a system that is under strain, with systemic issues “needing to be addressed within the food value chain”.

According to the latest data from Statistics SA, retail sales in South Africa experienced a slight monthly increase in April. However, they fell short of expectations due to consumers facing significant financial strain, with stagnant real wage growth and interest rates remaining at 15-year highs. In addition, news reports suggest that retail customers are dwindling, as retailers offer fewer discounts and pass on rising prices to shoppers.

“Consumer demand trends are still worrying,” says Van Reenen.

He warns against unchecked, blind optimism in this climate and stresses the importance of accountability for all operating in the agricultural value chain.

“As South Africa navigates this transitional period, a balanced approach of cautious optimism and rigorous accountability – will be vital in addressing the significant challenges in agriculture and the economy,” says Van Reenen.

He asserts that despite post-election agreements, the mandate for political parties to deliver on their promises remains unchanged.

“We are looking forward to seeing the promises made in the run-up to the elections being delivered on, irrespective of agreements made post-elections.

“Remember, if you want to see change or an improvement, hold those in power to account,” concludes Van Reenen.

*PRESS RELEASE

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