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Conservation of Resources

Famine is a scourge that has plagued the world since Biblical times.

Africa is no exception, and the provision of food – just the basics – must, surely, be a primary consideration of all national, provincial and local governments. A significant factor in this is the protection of agricultural resources – prevention of erosion, conservation of soil, soil fertility, and water sources, the combating of weeds and invader plants, and so on.

The problem is that we are not winning this battle, and the reasons for this are manifold. Take soil erosion, for example. In November 2014, Dr Jay Le Roux published a paper1 demonstrating that more than 60% of the country is under commercial and subsistence farming, with 10% under cultivation. The problem is that extensive tillage-based cultivation, and overgrazing is resulting in exposed land. This leads to a disproportionately high erosion rate – as much as 12.6 tons per hectare per year are eroded away.

All these aspects are the topic of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act 1983,2 and its provisions enact strict controls. The Act is administered by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

A. Weeds3

  1. It is a criminal offence to do any of the following in relation to weeds:
    • keep, exhibit, sell or offer;4
    • advertise, transmit, send, convey or deliver for sale;5
    • exchange or dispose of to any person for payment;6
    • disperse, cause or permit the dispersal in any manner.7
  2. The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries can designate ‘executive officers’ to exercise powers and perform duties under the Act. In particular, the Executive Officer can issue an order for the return to its place of origin, forwarding for removal, and even destruction of any agricultural product (including seed, grain and hay) that contains any weed. This order gets served on the owner of the agricultural product, or the person who has control of it. It is a crime not to comply with such an order.8

  3. If a weed clings to any animal conveyed in a vehicle, offered for sale at an auction, or even simply being driven on a public road, the Executive Officer can order that the weed be removed. It is a crime not to comply with such order.9

  4. It is an offence if the person removing the weed does not deal with it in such a way so as to ensure that it cannot reproduce.10

B. Control measures

  1. The Minister may prescribe control measures for land users. These can relate to cultivation of virgin soil, irrigation, utilisation and protection of vleis, marshes, vegetation, water sources, veld fires, weeds and invader plants, pollution, and so forth. Any land user who fails to comply with any control measure binding on him commits a criminal offence.11

  2. The Executive Officer, further, may direct a particular land user to comply with a certain control measure, and even to perform (or not to perform) any other specified act with regard to the land. Any land user who refuses to receive such a direction, or to comply therewith, commits an offence.12

  3. Any person who obstructs or hinders an Executive Officer (or other authorised person, such as a member of any regional or area conservation committee) in the performance of his duties commits a crime.13

  4. It is also an offence to refuse to assist that person, if he demands it in the performance of his functions, or to furnish false information, or refuses to furnish any information or explanation.14

  5. No person may disclose (except if legally required to do so) any information which relates to the business affairs of any other person, and which information he learned of in the performance of his functions under the Act. If he does disclose the information, he commits an offence.15

C. Assistance schemes

  1. The Minister can establish schemes to assist land users, by paying subsidies – for soil conservation constructions, restoration of land, planting of crops to improve soil fertility, or to counteract erosion, and so forth – and by supplying weed killers. Any person who fails to comply with the provisions of a scheme, after his application for participation in the scheme has been approved, commits an offence.16

  2. It is also an offence to fail to satisfy any condition on which assistance has been given in terms of a scheme.17

  3. Indeed, it is an offence to fail to comply with any condition on which any approval, authorisation, or consent has been granted by an Executive Officer.18

D. Soil conservation works

  1. Constructions to prevent erosion, or the silting of dams, the pollution of water and so forth (so-called ‘soil conservation works’) must be erected and maintained by every land user. It is an offence not to do so.19

  2. The Executive Officer can order a land user to repair, alter, reconstruct, remove or destroy a particular soil conservation work. If the land user fails to comply with such an order, he commits an offence.20

E. Beacons

Beacons, or other marking, may be erected for any of the purposes of the Act. It is a criminal offence:

F. Employer’s liability

The conduct of any employee, agent or manager which constitutes an offence in terms of the Act is deemed also to be an offence by that person’s employer or principal, who may be convicted and sentenced unless he proves that:

  1. See www.grainsa.co.za – ‘Soil erosion in South Africa – its nature and distribution’. Co-written with Hendrik Smith of Gain SA. At the time Dr Le Roux was a lecturer in the Department of Geography at the University of the Free State 

  2. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 88 of 1996. 

  3. A ‘weed’ is any kind of plant (and its seeds, or reproductive part of the plant) declared by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to be a weed. These include: certain Wattles, Ageratum, Camel Thorn Bush, Madeira Ranker/Madeira Vine, Coral Bush, Mexican Poppy, Giant Reed, Spanish Reed, Red Water Fern, Chandelier Plant, Mauritius Thorn, Pom Pom Weed, Cestrum, Inkberry, Triffid Weed (paraffienbos), Camphor Tree, Thistle, Pampas Grass, Dodder, Thorn Apple, Cactus, Water Weed, Water Hyacinth, Hakea, the Ginger Lilies, Moonflower, Morning Glory, Tickberry, Australian Myrtle, Cat’s Claw Creeper, Tree Daisy, Parrot’s Feather, Oleander, Wild Tobacco, the Prickly Pears, Stink Bean, Blue Passion Flower, Indigo Berry, Fountain Grass, Feathertop, Water Lettuce, Durban Guava, Kudzu Vine, Bloodberry, American Bramble, Kariba Weed, Potato Creeper, Wild Tomato, Tamarisk, Yellow Bells, Singapore Daisy, Mexican Sunflower, Red Sunflower, European Gorse, Cocklebur. 

  4. Section 5(6) read with section 5(1)(a). 

  5. Section 5(6) read with section 5(1)(a). 

  6. Section 5(6) read with section 5(1)(a). 

  7. Section 5(6) read with section 5(1)(b). 

  8. Section 5(6) read with section 5(2)(a). 

  9. Section 5(6) read with section 5(3)(a). 

  10. Section 5(6) read with section 5(5). 

  11. Section 6(5). 

  12. Section 7(6)(a) and (b). 

  13. Section 18(6)(a). 

  14. Section 18(6)(b) and (c). 

  15. Section 22(2) read with section 22(1). 

  16. Section 9(2)(a). 

  17. Section 9(2)(b). 

  18. Section 20(5). 

  19. Section 6(5) read with section 6(2)(o) and section 12(5) and section 12(1)(a). 

  20. Section 12(5) read with section 12(1)(c) and section 12(3). 

  21. Section 19(3) read with section 19(2)(a). 

  22. Section 19(3) read with section 19(2)(b). 

  23. Section 25(1).