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Why has implementing the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan been so painfully slow?

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Wandile Sihlobo is the chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA and a senior fellow in Stellenbosch University's Department of Agricultural Economics. His latest book is “A Country of Two Agricultures”.

As we are fast approaching the second anniversary of South Africa’s Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan, there is very little to show in terms of implementation on the ground.

A series of compounding crises has seized the attention of the government and inadvertently led to a minimal implementation of various critical plans and policies. Public and private sector attention has entirely shifted to resolving persistent load shedding, logistical constraints at ports, protectionism in export markets and the spread of animal diseases. 

These events meant that the government and various industry stakeholders moved into “crisis” mode, and the attention shifted from the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan (AAMP) and its promise for growth in the sector to addressing serious structural challenges that are hampering growth. The political economy tensions that often arise between industry role players and the government while resolving these urgent and near-term issues have further strained trust and the collaborative vision. 

Add all these problems to the age-long reasons for lack of implementation – corruption, lack of focus and lack of capacity – and you have a perfect storm of stagnation and stalled progress in actioning the AAMP.

It doesn’t help that the general elections are just around the corner, and in peak election season the political leadership devotes more time to campaigns geared towards winning another election bid. None of the above aspects has much to do with the AAMP, and if at all, the action plan is nothing more than a footnote to any serious policy or political discussion.

Why is the AAMP essential?

The AAMP should be implemented because it offers the government and the private sector a framework to grow the sector, build competitiveness, attract more investment, improve inclusion and create jobs.

These bold prospects directly address South Africa’s social challenges, such as rising poverty, low economic growth and high unemployment. Each party involved in the AAMP has a bigger mission of resolving these broad societal challenges through relentless work in their businesses. 

The AAMP is rooted in evidence-based research that outlines the possibilities for growth and the current growth-inhibiting factors. For example, growth constraints such as biosecurity, infrastructure, widening of export markets, registration of new crop protection chemicals, and various commodity-specific and regionalised plans are some of the aspects that the AAMP aimed to address.

These were to be tackled simultaneously with managing the financial needs in the sector, specifically for new-entrant farmers through the blended finance instrument, and the land needs for expansion through the yet-to-be-launched Land Reform and Agricultural Development Agency that was mentioned several times in the State of the Nation Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

The promise of these bold reforms in South Africa’s agricultural economy led to estimates that the gross value added to the sector could expand by more than 15% in the following decade. 

Disappointingly, the AAMP vision that excited most role players in the agricultural sector is beginning to wane. Various challenges took focus away from the implementation of the AAMP, such as persistent load shedding at the start of the year, logistical constraints at ports, protectionism in export markets and the spread of animal disease. 

What should the government and private sector leadership do?

Still, given the importance of this developmental and progressive plan for the sector, leadership is needed across all stakeholders to realign and rekindle the AAMP’s vision and outline steps for implementation. Therefore, implementation and operational planning are critical across various levels of government, mainly provincial and municipal, to ensure alignment and coherence in policy implementation.

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s small-scale farmers have a hard row to hoe, especially in the absence of policy support

Failure to operationalise the AAMP will be tragic for the agricultural sector and create a precedent of premature abandonment of yet another well-conceived plan that was never fully implemented. 

Further negative implications will emerge – a damaging loss of confidence in the government and questions regarding the state’s credibility, competence and capability to implement government mandates. The loss of trust will imply that any other plan in the future will not receive the seriousness and commitment it deserves. 

What must be done?

The first step should be geared towards designing implementation and operational modalities where each role player has a sense of ownership, responsibility and clarity about the steps they must take to see the AAMP through. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development will be at the centre of this process to lead the way, with the support of the private sector.

Notably, the department should have a dedicated desk that is fully staffed and focused mainly on AAMP implementation matters and stakeholder engagements. These personnel should not be dragged into “crisis” issues or other programmes that the government views as urgent but spend their time mainly on AAMP matters. DM

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