The establishment of a brand-new land reform initiative in the Free State is considered a giant leap forward in South Africa’s endeavour to address the apartheid injustice of land dispossession.
Based on the success of the five-year-old Witzenberg PALS, a private land reform initiative by Western Cape commercial farmers, 50 representatives from government and the agricultural sector are currently attending the launch of the Maluti Farming PALS.
PALS (Partnership in Agricultural Land Solutions) represents a radical departure from past land reform initiatives and is based on sound business principals, mentorship, and training of new era farmers to become successful commercial farmers.
Piet Potgieter, manager: developing agriculture for the VKB Group, describes Maluti Farming PALS as a grassroots initiative of cooperation and partnerships between farmers in the eastern Free State.
This agricultural hub is widely known for its soya, sorghum, sunflowers, and wheat production.
The launch function, currently underway at the Lavender Hill Country Estate in Bethlehem, is attended by, among others, Lennox Plaatjies, who has been instrumental in the success of the Witzenberg PALS in Ceres and surrounding towns.
Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, will deliver the keynote address at 12:15.
Ivor Price: Amid spectacular failures, the Witzenberg PALS has become a highly respected model for private land reform and development in South Africa. Is Maluti Farming PALS built on the same principles?
Piet Potgieter: Yes, indeed, although the principles of Maluti Farming PALS were slightly adapted to meet the specific demands of the eastern Free State.
In some respects, it also differs materially from the Western Cape’s Witzenberg PALS. However, the driving principles like structured land reform based on basic principles with farmers at the core of the venture remains unchanged.
PALS, of course, is a national movement. Do you foresee similar projects being rolled out in other parts of the country?
I do believe that the establishment of the Maluti Farming PALS will accelerate the national PALS movement. In the past, people believed that these principles could only be applied to intensive farming areas and Western Cape-specific circumstances.
The establishment of the Maluti Farming PALS proves that certain principles can be adapted to suit different farming circumstances. In fact, other PALS centres have already started developing in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.
“At PALS, we believe that farmers are best placed to find solutions for our land reform dilemma.”
Countless land reform projects have failed miserably over the last 26 years. How would you describe the magic of the PALS movement?
As a nation, we have become so used to failing land reform projects. The major difference with the PALS movement lies in the fact that farmers understand the circumstances and solutions of their specific areas, and they are also involved in the design of such solutions.
At PALS, we believe that farmers are best placed to find solutions for our land reform dilemma. Although they need other stakeholders, farmers take the lead in these initiatives. When farmers start being creative and working together, you can be assured that it will lead to sustainable, long-term solutions.
The launch event is currently underway. What are some of the programme highlights that you look forward to?
The programme has many highlights, but we are extremely excited about the keynote address being delivered by minister Thoko Didiza.
Other dignitaries celebrating the birth of Maluti Farming PALS is William Bulwane, the MEC for agriculture and rural development in the Free State, and the mayor.
For us, the three tiers of government working together on this project is certainly a highlight. This unique partnership between the different government levels was also instrumental in the success of Witzenberg PALS.
During the launch function, currently underway, we will also engage virtually with Lennox Plaatjies and Pieter du Toit from Witzenberg PALS. I am particularly looking forward to their contributions.
Also, physically present are representatives from the agribusiness sector as well as local farmers and other stakeholders. Virtually, a further 35 different companies are tuned in.
Furthermore, any moment now, AFASA secretary-general Nakana Masoka and Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede will deliver their messages of encouragement to the PALS movement.
I also cannot wait to hear the speeches of both a local commercial and new era farmer, Dr Agnes Setai and Gert Bester. This promises to be greatly moving.