Agroecology Strategy and Plan for South Africa: stakeholder input
Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development
14 March 2023
Chairperson: Nkosi Z Mandela (ANC)
The Portfolio Committee convened in Parliament to engage on an agroecology strategy plan for South Africa, and received presentations spear-headed by the Tshintsha Amakhaya network, a national alliance of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in solidarity with social movements to advance land, water and food justice.
The Committee heard that the correspondence sent to it by agroecology practitioners and advocates had been endorsed by 58 organisations on 2 December 2022. The concern of the organisations had been the under-expenditure of R1.3 billion for the 2021/22 financial year by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), which had been reported to the Committee the previous October.
The alliance presenters explained that agroecology was a movement for the transformation to ecologically sustainable, just, and socially equitable food systems within which people could exercise choice over what they eat and how and where it was produced. Agroecology was guided by principles addressing three core elements in the agenda for food system transformation: environmental sustainability, social justice and redress, and economic fairness and participation. The organisations needed an agroecology coordinator in the DALRRD for coordinated inter-departmental support in response to the multiple dimensions of agroecology, and to facilitate engagement with farmers and civil society organisations.
The Committee felt that the presentation raised important social, environmental, economic and ethical developmental issues, and placed agroecology as a practice -- and perhaps a science -- at the centre of a solution, which it welcomed. It made the Committee think of the effect of industrial farming practices, which had some huge gains, but came at a cost which included soil degradation, salination of irrigated areas, over-extraction of groundwater, as well as the build-up of pest resistance, and noted that if one factored in climate change, something needed to be done.
The DALRRD might know what agroecology was as a term, but that did not mean they knew what it entailed and how it worked in practice. It would be good to receive input on the presentation from the officials of the Department. Agroecology does not use chemicals and advocates for environmental sustainability and social justice. It could also be understood as organic farming, and it was friendly to the environment and the land it utilises. Unfortunately, the whole agricultural system in the country was based on conventional farming, and the use of chemicals predominates the sector.
The Committee decided that the Department must assist it by submitting a response providing clarity on what it had done over the years with its draft policies and all the legislation it had not mentioned regarding agroecology. The Department must explain its thinking on agroecology, and where it was placed in its programme, and submit it in writing to the Committee by Friday next week.
The Chairperson welcomed the Members of the Committee, the Department, and the organisations present in the meeting. He said the presence of the organisations was a healthy sign that the democracy of the Republic of South Africa works and that the collective or individual voices, issues, and concerns of the most marginalised rural communities were heard in Parliament, which was a place that was a true manifestation of the will of the people.
Parliament was also a place of law-making and oversight of the implementation of legislation, regulations and the provisions required to give expression to the will of the people. He welcomed the Member’s commitment to the national agenda that was, in essence, transformative in seeking to advance land, water and food justice.
There was a huge synergy between the principles that the Committee advocates for and the principles that the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) advocates for. It was critical that areas of synergy and cooperation were found and ways of advancing the core issues that drive the Committee and the Department, which lie at the core of bringing solutions to the people, were sought.
The country had entered an era where the weaponisation of social justice -- in which the legitimate issues of the citizens, most of which derived from the apartheid legacy and were complicated by the veneer of the corruption, criminality and inefficiency of recent times -- was leveraged as an instrument of regime change, fostering discourse, and disrupting social cohesion. The Committee had been aware of such tendencies since the early days of the Presidency, and remains acutely aware of the threat it poses to the democracy of the country.
The presentations come from a request made in 2022 in the wake of the unspent mandate and the view Parliament took of it at the time. Whatever the underlying issues, there was hope that there would not be another gross underspending of mandates this year, especially at a time when the social conditions of the people were precarious. The issues of land justice, water, and food security were germane to the core functions of the Department. The approaches to food security systems and long-term sustainability of the agricultural sector and humanity were relevant and worthy of the Committee’s attention.
As the Committee welcomed the presentation, it acknowledged the Appropriation for Rural Advancement (APPRA), the Border Rural Committee (BRC), the Farmer Support Group (FSG), the Legal Resource Centre (LRC), the Nkunzi Development Association, the Support Centre for Land Change, the Surplus People’s Project, the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE), the Transkei Land Service Organisation, and the Women on Farms Project.
The Committee trusted that the presentation would be well received, and the Department and Committee would find synergies and many positive areas that could be used for future cooperation. The Committee had also heard the call for a champion for agroecology in South Africa and for leadership to drive the transformative agenda in the agriculture, land reform and rural development space. “Let us work together to protect our democracy, transform our land and feed our families for generations to come”, he said.
The Chairperson acknowledged apologies from the Minister and Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development, as well as apologies from Members of the Committee, including that of Ms N Mahlo (ANC) who had a bereavement. He also acknowledged Ms M Tlhape (ANC), who had completed her PhD and was set to graduate soon.
NGO alliance in support of agroecology transformation
Ms Priscilla Mdlalose, National Coordinator, Tshintsha Amakhaya network, said the entity was a national alliance of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in solidarity with social movements to advance land, water, and food justice. The alliance was established in 2010, and currently includes the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), Border Rural Committee (BRC), Farmer Support Group (FSG), Legal Resources Centre (LRC), the Nkuzi Development Association, the Support Centre for Land Change (SCLC), the Surplus People Project (SPP), the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE), the Transkei Land Service Organisation (TRALSO) and the Women on Farms Project (WFP).
The correspondence sent to the Portfolio Committee (PC) by agroecology practitioners and advocates was led by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC), Biowatch, the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG), the Surplus People Project (SPP), Tshintsha Amakhaya (TA), and was endorsed by 58 organisations on 2 December 2022. The concern of the organisations was the under-expenditure of R1.3 billion by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) for the 2021/22 financial year, reported to the Committee on 11 October last year.
Ms Vanessa Black, Biowatch Advocacy: Research and Policy, said agroecology was a movement for the transformation to ecologically sustainable, just, and socially equitable food systems within which people could exercise choice over what they eat and how and where it was produced. Agroecology was guided by principles addressing three core elements in the agenda for food system transformation: environmental sustainability, social justice and redress, and economic fairness and participation.
The positive benefits of agroecology include climate change adaptation and mitigation, embedded in methods and practices including soil fertility and water use efficiency on farms and at landscape levels; the use of resilient seeds and breeds; avoidance of petrochemical inputs; localised food systems with less reliance on refrigeration and transport; and reduced packaging, with organic waste reduced and recycled.
Benefits also include improved food security and nutrition through fresh, diverse, healthy and affordable produce available locally; building self-sustaining and independent farming farmers; creating safe, healthy and fair livelihoods for food producers; maintaining traditional knowledge, food, and agricultural diversity; maintaining biodiversity and natural ecosystems and resources for coming generations; as well as resilience to global crises and shocks.
Ms Renette Dennis, a farmer and representative from the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE), said the TCOE was a national NGO working with small-scale producers and small-scale fishers who were women. The organisation lobbies and advocates for access to resources and information. Resources include land, water, seeds and equipment, and the organisation believes in using agroecology to attain food sovereignty. The organisations need an agroecology coordinator in DALRRD for coordinated inter-departmental support in response to multiple dimensions of agroecology, and to facilitate engagement with farmers and civil society organisations (CSOs).
Farmers and CSOs were active and ready to work in partnership with the government to realise common objectives of environmental sustainability, social justice and redress, and economic participation and fairness by:
Working together to develop a comprehensive joint strategy and programme on agroecology (noting 2013 Agroecology Strategy, draft 8);
Developing multi-actor agroecology pilot place-based initiatives;
Integrating international obligations, especially the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Peasants and People living in Rural Areas (UNDROP) into national plans
Working with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) on participatory longitudinal comparative studies based on a wide scope of indicators across all principles (noting their interest to engage following the go-ahead from the Department).
Mr Nicholas Koopman, a farmer and member of the Food Sovereignty Campaign (FSC), said the FSC was established in 2008 as a task team from different regions to address land hunger, food insecurity, food powerlessness, unsafe and damaged environments, unsafe chemical industrial agriculture, as well as inadequate basic social services. The organisation works to realise agrarian transformation for food sovereignty through access to land, increased agroecological production, building a strong land and food movement, networking and policy engagement.
Ms Ntombithini Ndwandwe, a farmer from the Zimele Rural Women’s Empowerment organisation in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), gave an account to the Committee of some of the challenges she and other women farmers in her area face.
Ms M Tlhape (ANC) struggled to grasp what agroecology was about, and was not sure whether it was a movement, but noted the good work it was doing in the agricultural sector by returning to the basics of advocating for and promoting food security in households. She wanted to know how different agroecology was from the other organised agricultural formations because she thought the households and homesteads differed for the agroecology organisations.
The Committee had recently dealt with the Agricultural Product Standards Amendment Bill, which mainly focuses on the production of agricultural products, and some of the elements of agroecology, including organic farming and the protection of the environment, were like the issues that were discussed by the Department and perhaps they needed a broader strategy to interlink them. She wanted to know the role that could be played by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in work done by the agroecology network of organisations.
Had the members of the TCOE applied for assistance from the Department for some of their programmes, including the agroecology hubs? Were the farmers on the Farmer’s Register? She suggested that farmers request help as individual farmers, rather than a group of farmers, because help came quicker and more efficiently. The Department needed to have more open days where it provides information to farmers.
Ms B Tshwete (ANC) said most of the information presented was provided for within the Department’s policies. She wanted to know what the open letter sent to the Minister wanted to achieve. She said the request to establish an agroecology coordinator in the Department sounded like the agroecology network of organisations wanted to be an implementing agent on its own. She questioned whether the Committee was the right platform to recommend that. She wanted to know the difference between the groups that presented before the Committee. She admitted to her need to learn more about agroecology, but was pleased to hear a testimonial from organic farmers and agreed that the Committee needed to visit some of the organic farms in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to get an experience of their challenges.
Mr N Capa (ANC) wanted to know how far the group had interacted with the Department about all the issues it had raised, and encouraged them to interact with the Department because most of the issues they raised were well delegated for within the Department. He asked the TCOE whether it had thought about engaging the big farmers, as they were known to discourage the work of the small farmers. What criteria did they use to create the hubs? Had they thought of a way of preserving seeds for the future? Where was the fight against unemployment, inequality, and poverty in all the work of agroecology?
Mr H Kruger (DA) said all the groups had products, but there was a bridge for small business development. It seemed like this was a breeding ground for cooperatives, and he asked all the speakers and representatives to go and present to the Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development how cooperatives should work, and raise their concerns on the type of assistance they need.
Ms T Mbabama (DA) said agroecology referred to how farming used to work in the past without tractors and new technology. It was similar to sustainable farming mixed with the present ways of farming. She understood the frustration of the presenters, because agroecology was not included in the plans of the Department regarding the Agriculture and Agroprocessing Masterplan, and she suggested that they talk to the Department to see how the establishment of an agroecology coordinator could work. The Department needed to first acknowledge agroecology and how it works to be able to assist the groups. Even the banks did not cater for sustainable farming or agroecology, which made it frustrating and impossible for organic farmers to grow their farms.
Mr N Masipa (DA) said the NGOs were saying that sustainable agroecology was not recognised within the Department and its plans. This was a call for action by the Committee and the Department to act and engage on how to support agroecology. Government should consider implementing the climate change commitments it made in the COP26 to assist in reducing climate change, because it affects everyone. The Committee should consider a joint sitting with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) to engage in the climate change strategy and agroecology.
He said the NGOs should also look into the various government policies and see where they could be assisted. He also wanted to know if there were still open markets for organic farmers, and asked Ms Mdlalose what her organisation would do if they were to receive land from part of the 700 000 hectares of land advertised by the Minister. He asked Ms Black whether she had attended some of the climate change forums' meetings across the country and globally. He wanted to know the progress made on South Africa’s commitments to climate change eradication. What had been the successes of the FSC? How was knowledge exchanged, and was the training provided on agroecology formalised? How big were the livestock farming and Rooibos tea of the TCOE, and where were their hubs?
Ms T Breedt (FF+) agreed that the Committee needed a joint sitting with the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. It would be prudent to receive an outline of the solutions to some of the challenges presented by the NGOs on agroecology. She asked the organisations to explain how the role of the agroecology coordinator in the Department would help. How did the organisations envision the declaration of the UNDROP being taken forward? Was agroecology being taught at a tertiary level? How did the organisations envision the ARC being involved in agroecology going forward? What was the impact of the seeding laws on seeding in agroecology, and what changes would need to happen in seeding laws to avoid counteracting sustainable farming?
The Chairperson said the Department might know what agroecology was as a term, but that did not mean they knew what it entailed and how it worked in practice. It would be good to receive input on the presentation from the officials of the Department. Agroecology does not use chemicals and advocates for environmental sustainability and social justice. It could also be understood as organic farming, and it was friendly to the environment and the land it utilises. Unfortunately, the whole agricultural system in the country was based on conventional farming, and the use of chemicals predominates the sector. Even when the DALRRD gives some production inputs, they were based on chemicals, or conventional commercial seeds, which were not natural seeds.
The status quo was largely driven by the education system that was inherited from the apartheid government. The Department officials were trained on conventional and commercial-based agriculture, and seem unable to see beyond that narrative, hence there had never been much talk about agroecology, so it would be interesting to hear what the Department’s inputs would be. Were there any schools that had agroecology in their curriculum besides the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch?
The presentation raised important social, environmental, economic and developmental issues, and placed agroecology as a practice and perhaps a science at the centre of a solution, which the Portfolio Committee welcomed. It made the Committee think of the effect of industrial farming practices, which had made huge gains, but came at a cost which included soil degradation, salination of irrigated areas, over-extraction of groundwater, as well as the build-up of pest resistance, and if one factored in climate change, something needed to be done. The presentation was anchored on the promotion of indigenous farming systems.
It had been mentioned in the presentation that there was no agroecology policy in South Africa, but it was also mentioned that there were several draft documents of policies and strategies. Why did the organisations think policy development had stalled in terms of agroecology, and what could possibly be done to fast-track it? What was their take on the various draft policies, including the national comprehensive producer development support policy? What were the weaknesses in the draft policies to address the issues raised in the presentation?
Ms Ndwandwe had spoken of households with their own farming plots where they produce but do not have the means to take their produce to the markets due to the lack of transport. Transportation costs were very high, and this negatively impacted the prices that they could get, and their produce was bought at very low prices, as determined by the market. How was the "One Hectare-One Household" project being utilised by the NGOs to ensure that organic farmers were supported?
It had also been mentioned that there were drafts that were scattered across the programmes of the Department. Where in the Department's programmes could agroecology be located? This was important, because the Committee would receive budgets and annual performance plans (APPs) from the Department. The Committee would like to see how agroecology would be catered for in the current budget and APP of the Department.
South Africa had a challenge of a rapidly increasing and urbanising population, which caused a challenge in feeding the population. The conventional industrial farming system put emphasis on productivity, profits and economic growth, thus ensuring increased food availability and creating jobs in the agricultural sector. The examples given in the presentation showed the small-scale farmers, who were very important, but it was doubtful whether they could feed the increasing population in the cities.
How could a small-scale family of farmers be supported in the same way as the large-scale industrial farming system? How were the small-scale farmers involved in agroecology mobilised, supported and coordinated to ensure that their produce was able to get to the market, because organic produce was very in demand and bought at high value? Lastly, had the organisations considered engaging Mr Janse Rabie, the legal and policy representative of the Presidential Climate Commission?
Mr Joseph Mahlabe, from DALRRD, said the laws that affected agroecology included the Plant Improvement Act and the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Seeds and Remedies Act 36 of 1947. What he understood from the presentation was that agroecology referred to production processes that did not use artificial fertilisers, chemicals and pesticides. The Department would have to look at the two Acts and see whether they were an enabling environment for agroecology. The legislation would have to come with regulations that support agroecology, because there would be a challenge in terms of zoning. For example, if a farmer practised agroecology and their neighbour did not, there would be a problem of cross-pollination between the neighbours’ farms.
The Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA) ensures the synthesisation of the sustainable use of natural resources and provides for control over the utilisation of the natural agricultural resources of the Republic to promote the conservation of the soil, the water sources and the vegetation and the combating of weeds and invader plants. Agroecology also adheres to the same principles as the CARA, but focuses more on organic farming. The Department needed to look at the existing laws that could be used or amended to protect or cater for agroecology as a sector, and then it could offer other forms of support to the specific farmers involved.
Ms Lydia Bosoga, Chief Director: Land Use and Soil Management, DALRRD, said the Department had heard the presentation from the organisations and acknowledged their cries. Some of the Department’s interventions were geared towards addressing issues of sustainable farming practices, including legislation such as the CARA, which addresses some of the principles of agroecology. The Department had a rollout plan within the land care programme as part of the National Development Plan (NDP) for addressing unconventional agricultural practices, and had 30% of the Land Care Grant allocated towards conservation agriculture. The 30% was small, but it could be viewed as the Department’s intervention to promote the practice of agroecology. It acknowledges the principle of diversification and the principle of a permanent CARA and minimal mechanical disturbances.
The Department also had soil care services aligned with the agroecology approach. There was also the land degradation neutrality target, where the Department reports on the hectares of land that it had rehabilitated annually. This contributes to the Department’s response to the conventions it had signed and deals with issues on the ground to promote sustainable practices.
The Farm Plant Regulation was intended to ensure that farms were well-planned, managed, and had appropriate practices. There was a need to review some of the existing legislation to accommodate agroecology even further, but the CARA did cater to it in a way, and the Department would also look to see how other avenues could be used, because the Land Care Programme was currently focused on community-based organisations. It would seek to partner with other NGOs to support farmers and tap into public-private partnerships to provide funding.
Mr Wade Parker, Development Facilitator, Surplus People’s Project, said South Africa had enough land to feed the entire population, but that was not the case because the problem of household hunger still existed, so the question of access to food was a priority. Agroecology was an international movement and was growing stronger within South Africa as it was not only a means of production, but also brought access to food to households and communities.
The organisations speak of food sovereignty instead of food security, because the latter did not address the root causes of household and community hunger. Food sovereignty seeks to also address the root causes of household and community hunger, and also looks at who has access to the seed and resources, and who has control.
The principles of agroecology include environmental sustainability, social justice and redress, and economic fairness and participation, because when speaking about food, one must speak about land and who had access to land and water, and who had control over water. Farmers should be the custodians of resources such as seeds, land and water because they could produce the food to feed the people of South Africa. The country was currently focused on high value products and exports, but was not looking internally at its communities and how it could address food insecurity through locally based markets, for example. Agroecology was not a business model, but was how the need for food in households and communities could be solved.
The UNDROP declaration speaks to the need for access to seeds, or farmers becoming custodians of seeds to give them access to food, and people to be at the centre of decision-making regarding food. Having an agroecology coordinator in the Department means the coordinator could be responsible for administering the projects to start embedding the discussion on agroecology in platforms such as universities and agricultural schools. If there was no recognition of agroecology as a practice, then how would it be included in conversations around climate change bills or climate change Acts?
Ms Black said there were many networks, organisations and farmer groups involved in the agroecology platform, but what was different between them and AgriSA was that they had a different approach, which was about social justice. The movement was not against precision farming, but it acknowledged that there must be a transition for small-scale farmers because conservation agriculture was designed to move big commercial farmers away from input. However, the way it played out for the smallholders was that smallholders who were practising sustainable agriculture got their crops sprayed with chemicals, which was not progressive. There needed to be a differentiated approach in the CARA Act, because it suggests a commercial approach to the industrial sector without understanding the context of the producers on the ground.
Agroecology was an organic approach, but it was also modern organic, because one of their struggles was that agroecology was always approached as a niche market, or a niche production system to access niche markets. People wanted to sell their produce to their local communities and instead, they were being forced to sell to big corporations such as Pick’ n Pay because there were no local market facilities. Local markets were needed to be accessible to communities so that people could buy healthy, nutritious and fresh food at affordable prices. People were going hungry because they could not afford to buy in the commercial market system.
She said the Portfolio Committee and the Department were more than welcome to visit some agroecological farms. They had previously invited provincial and national portfolio committees and the Department, but they had not honoured the invitations. The organisations had noted the challenge given by the Portfolio Committee and the Department, that they must consider the policies that they had and how they fitted into the agroecology mandate and how they counteract, but the overarching fact was that the Department was constantly promoting industrial agriculture and not giving them what they need. Many policies were geared toward smallholders and producers entering the commodity value chain at a commercial level. They were not focused on having South Africa food secure and people having good food and nutrition at a local level.
There were currently two seed Acts in the country -- the Plants Improvement Act and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act -- and they were designed to support commercial seed breeders. They were being amended to fit into the International Convention of Breeders, because they threatened the local seed breeders. The movement was pleased there were some exemptions for smallholders in the draft, but there needed to be actual policies supporting farmer variety. It was not enough to just have some exemptions in regulations, as they were often complicated and made it difficult for an ordinary farmer on the ground who may not be educated. There was also a campaign against highly hazardous pesticides which sought to have the pesticides that were affecting local farmers banned.
On climate change, she said many organisations within the movement had made inputs on the Climate Change Bill, and had asked that agroecology be given more prominence in the Bill. They had also asked the Department to start engaging on a cultural adaptation and litigation plan, because once the Bill was published, the movement would need to move quickly in enacting the plan, and agroecology should at least provide a framework for the adaptation plan.
Referring to the 700 000 hectares of land advertised by the Minister, Ms Mdlalose said she was unsure about the number of alliance members who had responded to the advertisements, and said finance would definitely be an issue regarding whether the farmers could afford to purchase or lease the land.
Ms Dennis said the TCOE was already in a cooperative where it assists farmers, and some of the success stories included that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the farmers could not move their produce and there was no access to a proper market to sell. However, the NGOs had come together and purchased produce from small-scale farmers and made food baskets to distribute to more than 400 households in communities around the Western Cape.
Chairperson's concluding remarks
The Chairperson thanked the Tshintsha Amakhaya Network and Biowatch SA delegation and the other organisations for sharing their experiences with the Committee. The Committee had brought the organisations before the Department to air their frustrations as a sector, to try and find synergies and address their plight and gain support for the issues they had raised.
The DALRRD must assist the Committee by submitting a written response providing clarity on what it had done over the years with draft policies and all the legislation it had not mentioned regarding agroecology. The organisations and small-scale farmers on agroecology had had to write an open letter to the Committee and the Ministry, which led to the meeting. The Department must explain its thinking on agroecology, and where it was placed in its programme, and submit it in writing to the Committee by Friday next week.
He assured the organisations that the Committee Members were representatives of the people and that their interests were to ensure that their needs and challenges were attended to. They represented them fully by holding the Department and its officials accountable, and what they were mandated to do reached the most needy of the South African communities. He was certain that the Department’s officials would leave the meeting having fully understood the needs of the organisations and the people they represent.
He thanked the officials of the Department, and hoped that they would take the message from the organisations to the Ministry and devise ways to assist them and address their needs. He also thanked the Committee Support Staff, Content Advisors and Researchers, and the Secretaries for ensuring that the first physical meeting of the Committee post-COVID-19 was well organised and successful.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mandela, Nkosi ZM
Breedt, Ms T
Capa, Mr N
Kruger, Mr HC
Masipa, Mr NP
Mbabama, Ms TM
Tlhape, Ms ME
Tshwete, Ms B
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