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Farmers suspicious of state's BEE study

20 February 2007, Business Day

Cape Town: Tensions within the agriculture sector appear to be heightening following the agriculture department's announcement that it intends to launch a baseline study of black empowerment.

While the department said in an advertisement that the study would add information about what the final codes should look like, organised agriculture said it viewed the study with suspicion, indicating that it might be a situation where government "again makes one-sided decisions".

However, agriculture department spokesman Priscilla Sehoole said the study was not intended to be a "witch hunt" but that it wanted to look at the rate of transformation in the sector.

"We need pointers for the charter and the whole purpose is to get input from individuals."
She said the study, which is being conducted by empowerment rating and research agency Empowerdex, would indicate who was complying with empowerment and to what extent.

She said the department wanted "volunteers" to step forward to have their farms and farming enterprises assessed and that the information gleaned from the study would help those volunteers to improve their empowerment status.

Sehoole said she hoped that by the end of May there would have been enough information to form the basis of a charter.

The study would seek to establish the number of blacks in management positions who contribute to the decision making in farming enterprises, as well as looking at the number of women in the industry and how the industry was being transformed.

It would be conducted "across the spectrum" of farming activities, from entry-level farmers to commercial operations.

Laurie Bosman of Agri SA, which through affiliation represents about 35000 producers out of a total of 45000, said it was news to him that such a study would be undertaken while the industry charter was not yet finalised.

He said the final report of the steering committee still had to be presented to Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana and then go to the trade and industry department for publication and comment. Bosman raised the recent row over cut-off points when Xingwana failed to consult the industry over who should and should not comply with empowerment directives.

"We are still uncomfortable with the situation because the sector has to underwrite the charter before it is finalised so that we are happy with it. We have not reached that point yet. It looks like the minister has got the wrong idea because they believe they can dictate to us what must be done."

Bosman said the department was far ahead of the game regarding the study, unless the department wanted to establish "what exactly is happening in the industry, which might be a good thing as it appears out of touch with the various industrial activities in the sector".

"The reason for the study confuses me because the department has a lot of information and if they cannot trust that information, then I don't know what is happening and it will only create confusion," said Bosman.

Bennie van Zyl, GM of TAU SA, which represents largely Afrikaner farmers' interests, said the study would have a benefit if based purely on scientific and economic principles. If politics was kept out of it, it could help to establish the capacity for empowerment and the effect on profitability.

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