Home Changemakers ‘Let’s debunk the myth that black people can’t farm’

‘Let’s debunk the myth that black people can’t farm’

Why land expropriation without compensation won't necessarily aid young farmers

Nono Sekhoto, farmer and founder of GrowthShoot. Photo: Supplied/FoodForMzansi

It’s a myth that black people cannot farm, says Nono Sekhoto, the Youth Chairperson of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa). This myth has recently been creeping up in many heated debates about land reform.

While it’s true that most of Mzansi’s commercial farmers are white, it certainly is a big fat lie that black people do not have farming experience. Sekhoto believes the myth exists because there aren’t many successful black large-scale farmers . Also, the current contribution of black farmers to food production in this country is still miniscule. 

So, what’s the deelio?

Sekhoto believes the myth can only be debunked once the meaningful participation of black farmers in food production is recognised by most South Africans. She says, “There are millions of black people who have been farming and are still farming today. However, in this context their success is benchmarked against white large-scale commercial farmers who got to their current positions through decades of extensive and targeted support from government and the industry at large. Black farmers currently hardly have access to appropriate support. They are a far cry from their white counterparts who are now positioned as successful commercial farmers.

What are the obstacles facing young, black farmers?

Getting support from our government who is supposed to create an enabling environment to set our farmers up for success, is at the very top. This is followed by the difficulty for them to penetrate the well-established agricultural industry that often refuses to cater and focus the much needed support to new entrants appropriately.

How do we accelerate the entry of new farmers?

The only way you can speed up the entry of new farmers is by ensuring that those entering become successful, otherwise we will have a huge “backlog” of new farmers who are always “emerging”. This success of black farmers will only be achieved once all stakeholders – both public and private – decide to seriously put the new farmers at the centre of their focus, with regard to transformation, development and the future. This will allow stakeholders to ensure that they include the new farmers in their plans so no-one gets left behind.

Will land expropriation without compensation necessarily aid young farmers?

Not necessarily, unless government policies have a specific mention on how they will target youth in this aspect, whether there should be a specific allocation for youth, or youth be prioritised in some way. The other land reform pillars did not have a focus on youth, so unless this is included we should not expect that anything will change. The sad part is that whatever decisions are made today will affect future generations who are hardly part of these processes.

What’s the one farming initiative that blew your mind?

Those who have been successful thus far, are those who are not waiting for stakeholders or government to come and save them. They have made a point of forging ahead and creating their own success. They are knocking down doors that others have not been able to open and they are changing the status quo of how farming has been done. Ntuthuko Shezi, the founder of Livestock Wealth, is a great example. He has created a platform that unlocks hidden value in cattle. It’s innovative, exciting, fresh and very transformational in its very nature.

Elsewhere on the continent? 

The rest of Africa has been churning out some incredible youth in the agricultural space. This includes many tech-agripreneurs in East Africa who are finding all sorts of interesting ways using technology and ICT to improve the prospects of smallholder farmers in their communities. These are in the form of accessing finance, inputs, markets and various support.

In West Africa there is a great focus to encourage youth to come up with innovative ways to work up the value chain as access to land is not so simple, and the land would be really small anyway. Youth are encouraged to collect produce from older, established smallholder farmers and process those into value-added products for local and export markets. 

What I like about what I see elsewhere on the continent is that their agricultural industries are focused on finding ways to support their smallholder’s farmers, while here in South Africa smallholder farmers and black farmers are treated as second-rate citizens as the assistance provided is not appropriate nor focused to see them succeed.

New farmers are struggling with access to finance…

The first thing that needs to be done is for those with the funds to change or allocate some of these funds to be appropriate for developmental projects and businesses. It is not because of a lack of finance that new farmers are not able to access finance easily. It is because the finance that is available is not appropriate for them. We need mandates of funding to change and be geared to assist new farmers. We need the government, who has access to grants, to partner with other institutions that provide finance in order to create blended finance for new farmers.

Ivor Price is a multi-award-winning journalist and co-founder of Food For Mzansi.
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