The growth in the agriculture sector is about two to four times more effective when it comes to increasing income among the poor than any other sector. A 2016 analysis by the Poverty and Equity Global Practice Group found 65% of poor working adults earn a living through agriculture. Needless to say, the World Bank Group views agriculture as a critical component for economic growth with the sector making up one third of the global gross domestic product in 2014 alone.
Despite agriculture being essential to the economy, the industry continues to be under threat. In 2017, agriculture-related crimes in South Africa cost the country about R7.72 billion. A report issued by the AfriForum Research Institute states that farm attacks have been on the rise since 2011. A total of 552 farm attacks were reported and confirmed last year, an increase of 27% compared with the previous year. Stock theft is the biggest financial risk faced by the agricultural sector and accounts for about R1.4 billion in losses annually.
You could argue that when the agricultural sector suffers, so does the entire country. The agricultural industry’s primary responsibility is to harvest food, so producers should not have to conduct patrols to protect themselves, their livelihoods and their property. Surely this responsibility lies with the police. The government should consider the value of agriculture when developing policies and policing models that aim to effectively address rural crime.
The government has done well in terms of establishing policies, AgriSA director for rural safety and provincial affairs Kobus Visser says. “The reservist system is the backbone of the national rural safety strategy, but it needs to be implemented effectively.” This system ensures there’s a policeman on the ground who can contribute to crime prevention. Training and procedures should however be simplified, and the necessary funds and resources must be distributed to a reservist system for it to work effectively.
You can’t talk about farm security without mentioning the 2017 protests. After a spate of farm attacks and farm murders more than 10 000 people took to the streets of Cape Town on #BlackMonday to demand an end to the killings. And every year more names are added to the Wall of Remembrance erected in Bothaville in 2007 to honour slain commercial producers and their relatives.
In the long term, more effective implementation of the national rural safety strategy is needed, Kobus says. A task team should also be established to proactively combat crime. This is important especially when you look at organised crime and its effect on farm attacks and stock theft. “A task team can act effectively and proactively in a region. Rapid-response units are also needed to complete follow-up work. So it’s a combination of things that need to be in place.”
The overarching view is to implement the national rural safety strategy with all its elements and make the necessary resources and funds available. “It could make a difference because it’s a good strategy that addresses all the components of rural safety and crime prevention,” Kobus says.
It’s clear that we need to establish a better relationship between producers, the police and government to ensure a safer future for the agricultural industry. We need to think and act responsibly because farming is not easy. It’s a labour of love.