The birth of Maluti Farming PALS, a brand-new land reform initiative in the Free State, will stimulate the rural economy and ensure equitable access to land for economic development and agrarian transformation, says the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza.
Didiza virtually delivered the keynote address at the launch function of Maluti Farming PALS. Attending the celebrations in Bethlehem, in the eastern part of the province, were commercial and new era farmers, as well as other government representatives.
The initiative, built on the principles of the Ceres-based Witzenberg PALS movement, is widely heralded as a radical departure from past land reform initiatives.
Experts say the movement’s foundation is sound business principles, mentorship, and the high-level training of new era farmers to become successful commercial farmers in their own right.
Partnerships key to success
Didiza is hopeful that Maluti Farming PALS will drive economic growth intervention for priority industries and commodities, while improving market access for commercial as well as small-scale producers. It also has the potential to address, what she described as, fragmented, and low-impact support to producers.
The minister believes the initiative, facilitated by a leading agricultural enterprise, the VKB Group, is critical for the “productivity of our national health”. She encouraged the three tiers of government to help ensure its success.
“I must say, from the engagements I have had with (the greater) PALS (movement), it is very clear that where partners such as farmers, agribusinesses, financial institutions and government work together, indeed we have success. I believe that government must support this initiative, and we are supporting it. We are (also) working with other agricultural entities in trying to resolve our challenges as a country,” says Didiza.
“I realised how many commercial farmers want to be involved in creating a new agricultural landscape.” – Dr AGNES SETAI
Piet Potgieter, manager for developing agriculture at VKB, also encouraged the private sector, government, and farmers to come together to make Maluti Farming PALS a success.
“For too long in our country, farmers have been taking a back seat in land reform and rural development.
“The private sector and, especially, farmers have not been involved sufficiently.
“Organised agriculture, commodities and all three tiers of government and agribusinesses are all independent, but we need each other to make a success of land reform.
“The land reform challenges are so vast that we need all the resources and all the contribution we can get to make it a success.”
Building a nation at peace
Meanwhile Christo Van der Rheede, Agri SA’s executive director, described Maluti Farming PALS as an initiative that exemplifies and honours the country’s Constitution.
“Agri SA is of the opinion that everything we do should be based on our Constitution. Our Constitution says South Africa is a sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values: human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights, freedom, non-racialism and non-sexism.”
Van der Rheede stressed that the Constitution guaranteed that all citizens were equally entitled to the rights, privileges, and benefits of citizenship, and equally subject to the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.
“I believe the PALS initiative follow these values. You have acted. You have taken steps to help realise this very important Constitutional imperative that rests on all of us. Often, we forget that our basis, as a nation, is built on the Constitution and often, we focus (only) on the rights (it guarantees).”
“Yes,” says Van der Rheede. “We have the right to demand that our rights be respected, and our rights be honoured and protected, but the Constitution doesn’t end there. It places a responsibility to ensure a nation where peace and harmony reigns; a nation where universal rights form a basis to create wealth and a nation at peace with each other.”
Van der Rheede described Maluti Farming PALS as a living example of an entity that does not merely use the Constitution to advance a particular set of rights, but it also recognises the responsibility that rests on its shoulders.
A farmer-driven initiative
Describing the initiative from a commercial farmer’s perspective, Dr Agnes Setai says through the establishment of Maluti Farming PALS he realised that farmers were eager to change the political landscape of South Africa.
“I realised how many commercial farmers want to be involved in creating a new agricultural landscape.
“At the first meeting in Reitz (in the eastern Free State) there were farmers from all over the country; even farmers beyond the original region we had in mind. To me, that is critical, and it spells a great sign for the future.”
Setai says Maluti Farming PALS is “an initiative for farmers by farmers.”
“Just before my dad passed away, he gave me really good advice. He said if I want to specialise with a certain product, I must look at a farmer in the area who was good at farming with that specific product and ask him for help. And I think that is why this initiative can work. PALS is an initiative for farmers by farmers.”