8 May 2002

South Africa: Farmers Plan A Land-Care Charter for World Summit

Johannesburg — GOVERNMENT, backed by organised agriculture, has embarked on an ambitious plan to get a charter on resource management and sustainable farming practices signed by "significant numbers" of farmers before the global summit on sustainable development in August.

SA would be the first country to come up with such a charter, even beating Australia a world leader in natural resource management to it.

There are laws to safeguard natural agricultural resources such as water and soil against abusive farming practices, but the charter would ensure that the agricultural sector became a "formal participant" in the United Nations summit.

The charter would draw "active commitment" from farmers to adopt their farming practices in ways as to increase productivity, improve food security and grazing capacity, limit soil erosion and protect water resources.

The charter would be drawn up at a four-day conference on land care practices that started in Benoni yesterday.

About 55000 commercial farmers were members of Agri SA, while the National African Farmers Union said there were about 500 000 black subsistence farmers in the country.

SA's poorest provinces, Eastern Cape and Limpopo, absorb half of government's investment in land-care projects. A total of 16,9-million people live in rural areas, of which 72% have an income of less than R353 a month.

"If there is not a greater awareness among farmers of the importance of sustainable development and protecting the environment, the degradation of SA's natural resources would severely aggravate poverty over time," agriculture department director general Bongi Njobe told delegates at the conference yesterday.

Australian Land Care Council chairman Bruce Lloyd told the conference a charter on land care was an "advanced concept".

Australia managed to put together an audit of its natural resources of soil and water over a number of years, but has no special charter to commit farmers to practice sound environmental practices, he said.

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