Thought Leadership

Small Scale Farming 2023

February 2023

With Braam Olivier & Pikkie de Lange

South Africa ranks among the top 10 producers of maize in the world. Yet on the global scale, the country is an insignificant contributor, accounting for less than 5% of global exports. One of the main reasons South Africa is not a significant player in the global market is the high domestic consumption rate. Maize is after all, a staple food in many African countries including South Africa. Yellow maize is also used across the continent in animal feeds. Additionally, competition from other countries such as the United States, Brazil, and Argentina means that South Africa must compete for export markets making it difficult to compete on price. Unfavourable exchange rates and major fluctuations between import and export parities have also made it difficult for the country's maize exporters to compete in the global market. Currency fluctuations can make their products more expensive for foreign buyers. To be competitive, South Africa needs to have consistent surplus so that the maize price can drop to levels where we can compete in the international market (known as export parity).

Farming requires a unique set of skills, knowledge, and personality traits that not everyone possesses. Successful farmers have a deep understanding of the natural world and the processes of plant and animal growth, as well as knowledge of the latest agricultural technologies and practices. Farmers need to be skilled at managing a complex business, dealing with finances, marketing and adapting to market fluctuations. Their work is often gruelling and unpredictable, requiring a fair amount of stamina, mental resilience and physical wellness. Over and above all, their belief in God is deeply rooted in their work and way of life. It is an exceptional aspect of farmers' lives as the natural world and the cycles of the seasons are seen as evidence of God's presence and power.

Small-scale farming in South Africa can be challenging. Supporting farmers is essential to promote food security, rural development, and to reduce poverty. Small-scale farmers face numerous challenges that hinder their growth and sustainability, including environmental uncertainty, access to land and financial resources. These will have to be addressed with solutions already in hand if small-scale farming is to survive in our country. The questions are: who will address these challenges and how will they equip the farmers with the necessary skills and knowledge? What kind of support is needed or can be provided for farmers to manage their farms efficiently and profitably? Formulating these solutions and implementing them is a complex task that requires in depth research and analysis. Diving into the world of farming in 2023 we observe the opinions and expert advice of two entities that are working under one roof despite their opposing views. Braam Olivier, Maize Procurement Manager at Barloworld Ingrain points out the risks of providing financial support to small-scale farmers while Pikkie de Lange, Director of WofSA, provides valid pointers on the benefits of investing in small-scale farming.

The fact that there aren't any fundamental support systems in place to offer immediate assistance in the event of an unforeseen challenge or force of nature is known to all farmers. As a result, each year is a gamble, and it is unclear how to correct this situation. It is crucial that we make agriculture more appealing, as failure to do so will jeopardise our goal of producing 800,000 metric tonnes of non-GMO maize produced by black farmers within the next ten years. Finding ways to improve agricultural efficiency is vital. A feasible solution, however, remains elusive.

In conclusion, the comparison chart highlights a range of mixed emotions regarding financial support for small-scale farmers. While there is a recognition that such support can be crucial in alleviating poverty, there is also a sense that the exact mechanism for achieving this remains uncertain. This highlights the complexity of the issue and suggests that there is no straightforward solution.

As Braam noted, it is essential to be cautious in how we approach financial support for small-scale farmers. While we may have good intentions, there is a risk that poorly designed policies could ultimately lead to further financial hardship for farmers. As such, any initiatives aimed at supporting small-scale farmers should be based on careful research and analysis, with a focus on understanding the specific challenges faced by these farmers and identifying effective ways to address them. Ultimately, it is only through such an approach that we can hope to make a meaningful and sustainable difference in the lives of small-scale farmers and contribute to the broader goal of poverty reduction.

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