Innovative private land reform initiative is going national

Government can't help all the small-scale black farmers up, says Partners in Agri Land Solutions (PALS) chairperson

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Partners in Agri Land Solutions (PALS), an innovative private land reform initiative that helps starter and subsistence farmers, has extended nationally.

The programme has been upskilling black, emerging farmers to become successful, small-scale commercial producers in the Western Cape for five years. Several PALS enterprises is now being implemented in the Northern Cape, Eastern Free State and Mpumalanga.

The PALS project was launched by farmers, the municipality and members of the local community in the Witzenberg local Municipality in the Western Cape in 2015.

Lien Visagie, chairperson of the board of Partners in Agri Land Solutions (PALS). Picture: Twitter

According to Lien Visagie, the chairperson of PALS, the PALS framework signifies a revolutionary deviation from past land reform models and is based on business principles, legal structures and the mentorship and training of up-and-coming black farmers to become successful commercial farmers.

Visagie indicates that the initiative has more than 100 projects listed that consist of land reform, value chain, housing and training projects throughout the country. To date 20% of the listed PALS land reform projects have been implemented successfully.

“This was achieved without government assistance,” boasts Visagie who is spearheading the initiative, bringing a woman’s point of view to the table.

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“Leading this initiative feels amazing because some women especially in the agricultural sector, were always ignored in the past. Now more and more women in the agricultural side as well in other sectors can have hope to be a leader,” she says.

Visagie was appointed to the position in May 2020 and shares that initially going national was not in PALS’ planning.

“Our plan was initially to just work with farmers in the Western Cape. But people in other provinces heard about this land reform project and they called our office asking for information,” she says.

‘They want to have a successful farming business and they can’t lean on the government at this stage in time.’

Some farmers from Limpopo were among the first farmers to reach out to them. “The farmers in Bela-Bela contacted us around 2017 and 2018. They were going through some issues and they asked us for information on how to make successful decisions that would help their farms,” says Visagie.

She says that after helping the farmers from Bela-Bela, word about the initiative spread really quickly.

“The next person told the next person and they wanted to buy in. We realised that everybody wants their business to become more and more successful and many black people want to be a black farmers in South Africa,” she says.

“They want to have a successful farming business and they can’t lean on the government at this stage in time. So, everybody wants a plan that works, so that’s how we expanded to other provinces in the country,” she says.

In the Western Cape they worked in the Witzenberg area with farmers from Ceres, the Koue Bokkeveld, Prince Alfred’s Hamlet, Wolseley, Tulbagh, the northern part of the Breede River Valley and the Ceres Karoo.

They are also currently running projects in the Eastern Cape, one in Stutterheim is called the Stutterheim Commercial Cattle Farming Enterprise.

Food For Mzansi sat down with Visagie to ask her to describe the business model for our farmers and explain how it is set to work in other provinces.

Sinesipho Tom: How does your model work?

Lien Visage: Our model is a land reform and agricultural development project that focuses specifically on BEE projects. We support black emerging farmers who want to become successful farmers by providing them with land, training and support. We work hand in hand with many commercial farmers in the country who want to give land to some of their workers. The commercial farmers either give some of their land to the workers or they buy a piece of land with assistance from commercial banks or the Land Bank.

‘If we don’t have any black farmers in the country the food chain will break.’

In this way farm workers can become owners while also being able to make an income and contribute to the country’s economy. We also want them to be able to create jobs on their farms. We try by all means to implement chapter six of our national development plan. The national development plan sets the goal of an integrated rural economy based on successful land reform as well as job creation in rural areas. Chapter 6 of the national development plan suggests that the state and private sector form partnerships to stimulate economic growth in rural areas and to make land reform successful.

ST: What are some of the lessons you learnt before you expanded nationally?

LV: I am the new chairperson. I have only been a chairperson for a couple of months. But I learned that outside my business there are hundreds and thousands of people who want to become farmers and they all want to be developed. I learned that they are looking for a helping hand. They are watching and they are screaming, and they are calling, and they are running to the government but aren’t being helped.

So, I learned that they must be supported because if we don’t have any black farmers in the country the food chain will break. Because our food chain is so valuable and important in the country, I learned that they must be supported. We know that most of the commercial farmers in South Africa are mostly white and that is why the national development plan was developed, so that there can be more and more black farmers who can be helped and supported by the country. But the government doesn’t have all the answers and this project of PALS doesn’t have all the answers. But we saw from the businesses and farmers and those who are buying in that this plan can work for the future.

Even President Cyril Ramaphosa said our initiative is the best. He recognised this initiative in Parliament and not him alone, there are several departments in our country that recognised this initiative. And that is for us a wow. After people heard the president recognised this initiative, they want to buy in.

ST: Are there any mistakes that you made in WC that you learnt from?

LV: Six years ago, the first directors and strategic managers who drew the policy to initiate this project developed it for the Witzenberg area alone. But now the project is becoming bigger and it is extending outside the province so now there must be a new strategy. I think the mistake that we made six years ago was not planning ahead and waiting too long to look for new strategies.

ST: How is the model going to work nationally?

LV: We will be implementing the same strategies but according to the needs of the different provinces. The same structure will be put in place, but with their needs in mind. This Western Cape has more water as opposed to the Free State even the climate is different so it will differ from place to place.

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