The proof is in the pudding, warn agricultural leaders following the announcement by Thoko Didiza that nearly 700 000 hectares of underutilized or vacant state land will be released for farming practices.
Agbiz chief executive Dr John Purchase tells Food For Mzansi that although it is loaded with good intention, it could fall flat on delivery.
He adds that this will be the case, “also in terms of beneficiary selection, tenure rights (terms of lease agreement) and support provided. Partnerships with commercial agriculture would also be welcomed as it would create a far better chance for the sustainability of the enterprise.”
Author and Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo described the declaration by the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development as “a good move”. “But unfortunately,” he says. “as long as we still have a non-tradable lease the financing of and keeping these farms productive will remain a challenge.”
Meanwhile Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, has re-assured farmers that the 896 state farms being made available for agricultural purposes, will not be assigned according to political lines. This after social media concerned citizens took to social media saying that only members of the ANC would be successful beneficiaries of state land.
Ngcobo tells Food For Mzansi, “The process is open to all South Africans, above the age of 18, irrespective of (their) political affiliation and it is not in the criteria.”
The DA’s shadow minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Annette Steyn, cautions that the programme cannot move forward, while “emerging farmers”, currently on state land, do not have title deeds and security of tenure.
Her party has in the past continuously called on government to release unused state land. Steyn says, “But to do that while farmers currently farming on state land are unsure of their future would be foolish. As it stands, the minister’s announcement does not bode well for the farmers currently farming state land, or those unfortunate enough to have future entanglements with the minster and her department.”
Didiza, in her address on Thursday, 1 October assured the nation that farmers with allocated state land and signed 30-year lease agreements will be subjected to a compulsory training programme. This will include entry-level training on the commodity of the farmers’ choice, basic record keeping, basic financial management as well as enterprise development.
However, according to Steyn, the state has a track record of failing farmers. She says the DA are aware of farmers that have received letters to “vacate the land” that they have been farming on for many years.
According to her, the 2013 state land disposal policy was never properly implemented and left most farmers without valid lease contracts. This allegedly forced farmers to rely on state support. “These farmers are now under threat of losing their land because some official might decide that the land was ‘underutilized’.”
Steyn says, “The state has continuously failed to help these farmers with the most basic support, like renewing lease agreements in time so that they can get a production loan at a facility of choice. The agreements of offer to purchase were one-sidedly changed by the state, leaving many farmers frustrated and not able to use the land to full capacity.”
What about the Western Cape?
Concerns have also been raised on why all provinces, with the exception of the Western Cape and Gauteng, have state land available for leasing. During a media briefing, however, Didiza says this is simply because these provinces do not have any available state land.
Agri Western Cape’s communications manager, Jeanne Boshoff, says they are unable to comment on the availability of land in the province. They do point out, however, that “the Western Cape has a 72% success rate in terms of land reform projects, which far exceeds the efforts of the other provinces.”
‘Apply principles of economies of scale’ – TLU SA
Meanwhile TLU SA welcomed potential new farmers who stand to benefit from the release of state land to the agricultural sector. They are not convinced, however, that government knew the difference between agriculture and social welfare.
Henry Geldenhuys, TLU SA’s president, argues that a responsible government would have involved existing agricultural organisations in the evaluation, allocation and setting of criteria for new farmers.
“The minister makes a point of thanking farmers for working tirelessly during the lockdown to ensure the country of food. But it does seem like the government is doing everything in its power to damage agriculture – mostly commercial farmers.”
Geldenhuys adds that, “South Africa is a marginal farming country in comparison to other producing countries. We must utilise the available farming land with great insight. It is essential to apply the principle of the economy of scale in this case.”
‘This isn’t progress. It’s nonsense,’ says Farmer’s Weekly
Meanwhile there’s been mixed reaction on Twitter regarding Didiza’s announcement. Farmer’s Weekly editor Denene Erasmus described it as “nonsense”, while human rights lawyer Richard Spoor questioned where government would find 900 new commercial farmers with the skills and capacity to run and develop these farms in the next few months.
This isn’t progress, it’s nonsense. Award title deeds so that the people can own land and get a loan from a bank that will enable them to invest in growing their businesses! A 30-year lease is not good enough and it keeps people beholden to the state. https://t.co/aePM1HimPP
— Denene Erasmus (@agri_erasmus) October 1, 2020
900 farms averaging nearly 800 hectares each. Where does government expect to find 900 new commercial farmers with the skills and capacity to run and develop these farms in the next few months? Where will the input capital come from? Is there a plan? https://t.co/JhqPoz6BiX
— Richard Spoor (@Richard_Spoor) October 2, 2020
We wont buy back our land. We call on Minister Didiza to say what happened to land expropriation without compensation process.
We reject this offer to sell us land back. This stunt by Minister Didiza is nothing but a ploy to facilitate corruption by giving state land to friends
— BLF2020 (@blf2020) October 2, 2020