The voice of agriculture . Die stem van landbou . Izwe lezokulima

Unrest: Reflections and lessons learnt

The past month’s lawlessness and violence has threatened to derail the critical, essential and highly sensitive agricultural value chain and the livelihoods of communities who depend on it.

“The long-term impact of the unrest on our farming communities, and the local towns in these areas, has been severe. Entire towns and businesses were destroyed, bringing with it implications for future food security and the threat of job losses, which has had a knock on effect on farming in these areas. It is a recipe for economic and social instability and has disastrous consequences for the entire agricultural value chain,” said Sandy La Marque.

The impact of the closure of the N3, as the primary gateway for the movement of produce and products into and out of the province, also had catastrophic consequences for farmers, agri-businesses, retail stores and the entire value chain – just one example, 25% of South Africa’s milk moves out of KZN, which of course could not be moved. The effects of the closure of various distribution centres for packaging, feed for animals, fertilizer storage, the lack of fuel and so the list goes on, severally set back the agricultural economy of KZN,” said La Marque.

In response to the closure of the N3, La Marque called for the removal of the Mooi River Toll Plaza, at a KZN stakeholder meeting attended by Minister Thoko Didiza held on 16 July, citing the severe risk its location places on the sustained economy of KZN. La Marque recommended to government that an economic security risk analysis be conducted on the location of the toll plaza.

“We strongly believe that the findings would more than justify the relocation or removal of the toll in its entirety. We call on government to acknowledge the risk that exists with its location,” said La Marque at the time.

Amidst the unrest, Kwanalu conducted a real-time survey amongst its leadership membership base to assess the impact on agriculture and rural towns in the province. The real time snapshot survey conducted three days into the unrest revealed that 64% of towns experienced severe food shortages, 32% moderate food shortages, and 4% with a relatively secure source of food supply.

It revealed that economic activities were demolished in more than 55% of rural towns, with 15% of towns a severe degree of damage (between 40% and 80%) to businesses and trade, while a further 15% of towns experienced limited looting with their centres “partially intact” (between 11% and 40%).

In response Kwanalu led a series of critical national interventions, together with Agri SA, to ensure that the impact on the province’s agricultural value chain, future food security and rural stability was minimised. Following which Kwanalu and Agri SA amalgamated resources with WeareSouthAfricans and their partners, ReMAX SA, One Logix, Toyota Knights, various Round Tables and Hino Pietermaritzburg, to bring in more than five tons of donated food from Gauteng, nearly thirty-two tons of mielie meal donated by SenWes, four tons of food donated by Karino Farms Mpumalanga, through OrangeHearts (Citrus Growers Association), potatoes and onions from OneFarmShare (Hello Choice) and two tons of sugar from UCL Pty Ltd, amounting to a total of R5 million worth of food aid feeding more than 500 000 people, and ensuring food security for a further 300 000 in the upcoming weeks.

“Kwanalu has undertaken to restore value chains, address rural security and restore rural stability, to the rural communities surrounding our members’ businesses in the interests of our members. Added to this, our leaders in these towns are now advancing on ideas of strengthening civil society to achieve stability and to stop the further decay of these critical towns across the province,” said la Marque.

“The public unrest we experienced was something abnormal, we frequently see protest action where damages do occur but nothing like we experienced in July. Lessons from experiences can always be applied and for us at Kwanalu there are several take-aways for us as an organization, most of which already can be categorized into our objectives,” said La Marque.

Local police forums where community members and the local SAPS meet regularly are important as this is where the “rural conversation” starts, says La Marque.

“In many small towns, these relationships are forged through regular meetings with the local SAPS, security clusters, community members and farmers. This meant that when the unrest broke out, everyone was able to work together. The lesson here is that we need these systems to be happening in all areas; where we do not have these solid working relationships, we experienced more challenges,” said La Marque.

La Marque also said the issue of good communication channels in rural areas was highlighted as in many areas, cellphone towers were down. Among other lessons to arise from the experience include the importance of leadership of farmer’s and landowner associations.

“We instantly created a Kwanalu Joint Operations Committee (JOC) of leaders of all farmer’s associations, commodities and affiliates who we met with daily during the two weeks of the unrest and weekly since then. We were able to communicate timeous and accurate information to our members and to get real-time feedback from them. The JOC proved to be an invaluable tool,” said La Marque.

“Our excellent working relationships with stakeholders at national and provincial levels, which we have forged over time, meant that we were able to highlight issues as they happened, enabling these to be attended to timeously. Kwanalu’s proactive approach to organized agriculture, our united voice, focus on security and safety of our members and the open channels of communication providing members with credible and real-time information, stood us in good stead when dealing with the recent unrest,” said La Marque.