PORT ELIZABETH – The contentious issue of land expropriation, the proper management of dwindling water resources to ensure food security, and the impact that climate change will have on coastal communities will be among the hot topics when the Eastern Cape’s farmers gather for their 17th annual congress later this week.
Provincial agricultural body Agri Eastern Cape will play host to the conference in Jeffreys Bay on Thursday and Friday, which features a line-up of speakers that includes academics and industry experts who are set to address the major issues affecting farming in the province.
Keynote speaker Angelo Fick will launch proceedings with an in-depth look at the complexities of land issues. Fick, who is the director of research at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI), is also known for his role as a senior researcher and news analyst.
In response to the land question, Fick will discuss how changes in ownership structures demand creative thinking to solve this multi-faceted problem.
“There are two conflicting aspects to land expropriation. We are trapped by politicians who are working towards their own agendas which, I believe, are influenced strongly by the upcoming elections, and also by land owners who are afraid of change,” said Fick.
“But all the talk about who owns the land misses the point. You also have tenant farm workers whose ancestors were buried on the farm, and who will be buried there themselves. They, and their children, attended school on the land. There is a sense of history and they need to be afforded some kind of rights.
“However, while there is a still a long way to go, there are already structures in place, models which are already working, under which land owners co-operate with tenants, and vice-versa, to achieve harmony.”
With the prolonged drought currently wreaking havoc in parts of the Eastern Cape, the importance of water in ensuring food security is another critical issue under the spotlight. This will be addressed by Felix Reinders, the President of the International Commission on Irrigation and Draining Irrigation Farming.
Reinders believes that with effective water management and good subsurface drainage, improved soil health conditions can be created for successful irrigation farming which, in turn, would assure the country of continued food supply.
Looking ahead, the Eastern Cape regional manager for the South African Weather Service, Hugh van Niekerk, will tackle the challenges that climate change will throw at the province, not only in the immediate term but also over the next 100 years.
He is expected to highlight the effect that global warming is having on rising sea levels and the impact this will have on coastal communities, as well as on people living inland.
Agri SA president Dan Kriek will also address delegates and provide an overview of the parent body’s activities and interactions with government and key stakeholders at national level.