As drought maintains its grip on crops, emerging farmers face a double whammy as they battle to access finance without land ownership as collateral.

The prolonged drought has exacted a toll with a negative impact on the yields of major summer crops this year. According to Statistics SA, the production of maize, soybeans and sunflower seeds is expected to be down 13%, 16% and 29% respectively from last year.

According to Statistics SA, the agriculture sector’s performance was weakened by a slowdown in the production of field crops, including wheat, sunflower seed, and tobacco, and horticultural products, such as vegetables, citrus and deciduous fruits.

Wandile Sihlobo, head of economic and agribusiness intelligence at Agbiz, said the contraction in the sector was in line with the figures being released by key horticultural subsectors that had harvested their produce during the first quarter of the year. These included the wine grapes, which saw a 2% decline year-on-year.

“The citrus industry, which has been a source of positive news in the horticultural sector, with exports set to reach a record level of 137 million boxes of citrus fruit in 2019 due to [high] output, only started with its harvesting activities in the second quarter, and we expect its fortunes to be reflected when the data become available,” Sihlobo said.

He said agricultural conditions were challenging in large parts of the country, due to drier weather conditions experienced during the past few months.

Drought impact aside, emerging farmers who do not own land find it near impossible to get a loan from a commercial bank. In his state of the nation address (Sona) earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that over the medium-term budget period, R3.9 billion had been allocated to the Land Bank to support black commercial farmers. But is this enough to address the financing challenges in the agricultural industry?

Innovative funding models required

Dawie Maree, head of agriculture information and marketing at FNB, points out that the average production loan for a grain farmer that plants roughly 1 000 hectares of maize per year is R10 million a year. He admits that offering loans to farmers who do not hold the title deeds to the land they farm remains a major risk for banks.

Nico Groenewald, head of agribusiness at Standard Bank, agrees. “There is significant room for growth and banks across the board need to find more innovative ways to increase funding to emerging farmers, specifically black emerging farmers. Agriculture and land policy certainty coupled with an effective disbursement of government grants to deserving farmers would further support banks safely leveraging [the] balance sheets of emerging farmers,” Groenewald says.

Maree says FNB typically runs an overdraft type of facility that is renewable every year but in the case of farmers who don’t own the land they farm, with little or no security, there is escalated risk for the banks. “Personal loans are an option but this is not ideal,” he says. In terms of both the Banks Act and the National Credit Act lenders have to look at affordability and the ability of the applicant to repay the loan.

Blended finance a possible solution

Maree goes on to say that in many countries, governments subsidise insurance premiums to assist farmers who want to mitigate the risk of climate volatility. “For example, in the US half of the insurance premium is subsidised, resulting in 85% of the crops being insured,” he says.

FNB is in the process of establishing a fund using its own corporate social investment funds as well as development funds from the international community to assist farmers without security. Maree says no definite timeline has been set but that the fund could be launched within the next year.

“As the financial sector, we need to ensure that everybody gets financing at a reasonable rate that allows them to be profitable,” he says. “We need to refigure our financial models.” This includes developing more complex credit structures with blended finance to help with access to markets, skills and funding, he adds.

Blended finance is broadly seen as the combination of official development assistance with private or public resources, with the aim of leveraging development finance from other players.

Collaborations

Groenewald says that until recently Standard Bank had a credit line in place to assist emerging farmers on an individual basis in applying for production credit and loans. However, the bank has changed its focus and moved to collaboration with organised industry bodies who can also support emerging farmers with production finance and technical support. “This type of collaboration appears to be more effective to service a broader base of similar farmers – and provides a framework for technical support too, limiting production risk. We hope to announce the next collaboration framework before the summer planting season,” he says.

Standard Bank recently joined forces with the University of the Free State and the Free State Department of Agriculture to put together a comprehensive programme that will train and equip emerging farmers. “The department has already identified more than 22 farmers for participation in the programme with the aim to move this up to 50 farmers,” says Groenewald. “Our role is to provide financial guidance and ultimately consider financial assistance. The aim is to build this out to a broader audience once the project proves successful.”

Standard Bank is also working with an insurer on a combined project where the applicant or farmer will apply for production funding, with the insurer providing an insurance solution as part of the risk mitigation. Groenewald was not able to name the insurance company that is partnering with the bank at this point, but said the programme should commence in summer.

Article reworked from Moneyweb and Farmer’s Weekly.