Is South Africa’s Rural Economy Failing?

Dilapidated country roads are a direct threat to South Africa’s agricultural and rural economies, but farmers and communities have largely come up against a wall of indifference from the government. In an attempt to make their voices heard, Agri SA and its subsidiaries conducted a nationwide survey of 311 primary production units, many of whom expressed frustration with the authorities’ inaction.

The deterioration of South Africa’s road network is a threat to the agricultural industry and the people it employs.
Photo: FW Archives

Roads connect food to tables in the dining room. patients to hospitals. Children in schools.
Yet the lives and livelihoods of rural South Africans are under daily threat due to South Africa’s crumbling road infrastructure.

This is according to the results of a survey conducted among 311 farms, all members of Agri SA or its provincial subsidiaries, which was submitted to the Minister of Agriculture, Agrarian Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza in April.

“Roads are the arteries through which the economy is in full swing. We cannot afford to lock our rural people into cycles of poverty and inequality,” says Lebogang Sethusha, Labor and Employment Specialist at Agri SA.

“We can overlook talk of accelerating economic growth and job creation when we have not invested substantially in the basic foundations of rural infrastructure.

South Africa hit a new low, with its unemployment rate at a record high. During the fourth quarter of 2021, 7.9 million South Africans (35.3%) were unemployed. This is the highest unemployment rate since Statistics South Africa began monitoring unemployment rates quarterly in 2008.

However, Sethusha says South Africa cannot really solve the unemployment crisis until the country’s Achilles’ heel, its dilapidated road infrastructure, has been sorted out. “Roads […] bring life and prosperity to rural communities,” she says.

Kulani Siweya, chief economist of Agri SA, says the survey found that 94% of all agricultural products are transported by road. “Last year, the average commercial farmer transported around R23 million worth of agricultural produce by road, making a combined total of over R7.1 billion for South Africa.”

Nine out of 10 farmers confirmed that they depended on the roads on a daily basis. “This explains why 69% of respondents have at some point attempted to repair the affected roads themselves,” adds Siweya.

Participants revealed that repair costs and related expenses incurred due to poor road conditions cost the average producer around R200,000 per year.

Christo van der Rheede, executive director of Agri SA, says no matter how noble their efforts, it is not the duty of farmers to repair the roads. They need to focus on food production.

“Over the past year, participants have lost 16% of their turnover due to transporting products on bad roads,” he says.

It stands to reason that poor quality roads on which vehicles shake and vibrate will lead to bruised and broken fruits, vegetables and eggs.

Bring the government to justice

No province has been spared by this unfortunate situation. And while policymakers often express sympathy for rural dwellers, it seems the only path they seem to be taking is one paved with good intentions.

It seems that even a court order does not help. In 2015, Agri Eastern Cape took Thandiswa Marawu, then MEC of the Eastern Cape Roads and Works Department, and other government officials to court. On February 28, 2017, Judge Judith Roberson ruled in favor of the organization.

However, she said that due to a lack of funds available to the department, roads in the province would still be in substandard condition (particularly due to insufficient gravel levels) and vulnerable to adverse weather conditions.

“The network is in very poor condition and the vast majority of roads need re-gravelling to restore them to good condition,” Roberson said, adding that the department was unable to carry out resurfacing activities. at the required scale, as it would cost around R500,000/km.

“To properly maintain the gravel road network, roads should ideally be re-gravelled every seven years, which would be 5,000 km/year, at an annual cost of R2.5 billion. This is clearly not feasible, as the whole road budget [for the province] is only R2 billion per year. Other activities, such as the maintenance and rehabilitation of paved roads must surely be prioritized even more,” she said.

Roberson ordered that the department consult Agri Eastern Cape on decisions regarding road maintenance. However, Gunther Pretorius, director of Agri Eastern Cape, says that in the years since that verdict, the government has not consulted them once.
Pretorius adds that Agri Eastern Cape, which is out of breath, is considering taking the provincial authorities to court again.

Jack Armour, commercial director of Free State Agriculture, said they were also considering taking authorities to court over bad roads.

“When graders grade the roads, they create berms on both sides of the road, which turns the roads into storm drains when it rains.”

Unmaintained roads aren’t the only problem facing farmers in the Free State, he said. “Blocked culvert pipes are also a problem. The water collects against the road and eventually flows down the road, creating very dangerous conditions.

In Limpopo, farmers have also struggled to get a reaction from the government. Deidre Carter, CEO of Agri Limpopo, claims to have shown photographs and videos of the dire road conditions to many politicians, to no avail.

“The [state] from the Alldays-Swartwater road (R572) has been highlighted by the Bosveld Farmers Association for over a decade.

“Poor road conditions are a major reason why Tiger Brands closed its Alldays depot three years ago. This subsequently led to a 3,000 t drop in tomato production in the region. Many transport companies that served the farming community in the Bosveld no longer do so,” says Carter.

It is just one of many roads in the province that are collapsing. Another is the N11, a major road used for transporting products such as citrus fruits, cotton, tobacco and grapes. Carter says farmers are particularly concerned about damage to export produce.

Potholes and protests against service delivery

Life-threatening potholes, uneven road surfaces, poor or non-existent signage, road shoulders lacking gravel and vegetation blocking sight lines were the top concerns raised by farmers in the Agricultural Union of the KwaZulu-Natal (Kwanalu).

Sandy La Marque, CEO of Kwanalu, says the roads farmers are most concerned about have strategic value for the province.

“We are talking about a main (national) trade route, an agricultural route that leads to the mills and transports dairy products and animal feed to and from the farms. In addition, it is also a school route, a tourist route and a main travel axis used by businessmen between cities.

The Mark says that in addition to the deplorable state of the roads, external factors have also hampered the farmers’ ability to use the roads.

“We have constant problems with protests due to a lack of service delivery. People do not receive water, housing or sanitation services. Our municipalities are inefficient and we have a lot of problems with councillors. Corrupt officials and empty political promises are the order of the day.

Incompetent officials

Nicol Jansen, chairman of Agri Northern Cape, says his organization has been able to establish a good working relationship with the Northern Cape Department of Works and Transport. However, the outcome of these commitments has still not seen the desired progress.

“The poor state of the roads in the province has a very negative impact on the profitability of the agricultural sector. Transport costs continue to rise, while the provision of services to the private sector is limited. »

Jansen suspects that many trucks are overloaded, but this cannot be verified as there is only one weighbridge, based in Kimberley, in the province. “And it doesn’t even work, because vandals broke it!”

He adds that overloaded trucks cause serious damage to the road and if this is not corrected, the situation will only get worse.

“We also need more efficient and dedicated staff to ensure we meet the appropriate service delivery targets. If the government employs more ethical workers who are solution-oriented, goals should be met and problems will be solved. Good workers will stretch the limited budget enormously.

Email Agri SA at [email protected]or call 012 643 3400.

About Keneth T. Graves

Check Also

Off-farm income is increasingly important to the agricultural and rural economy

Enter Wall Street with StreetInsider Premium. Claim your one week free trial here. DENVER, Sept. …