SONA 2020: State land to be released for farming this year

Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledges the 21-gun salute which is the highest honour that the nation renders to the president. Its first shot is synchronised to coincide with the playing of the national anthem. Photo: South African Government

Government will be releasing about 700 000 hectares of state land for agricultural production this year, announced pres. Cyril Ramaphosa in his fourth State of the Nation address in parliament.

Ramaphosa also announced a new selection policy for potential land reform beneficiaries that includes compulsory training before land will be allocated to them. “We are prioritising youth, women, people with disabilities and those who have been farming on communal land and are ready to expand their operations for training and allocation of land,” he said.

Other good news for the agricultural sector in SONA 2020 include the imminent opening up and regulation of the commercial use of hemp products, providing opportunities for small-scale farmers, and a new poultry import tariff adjustment to support the local industry.

The adjustment in poultry import tariffs is expected within the next two weeks, Ramaphosa said. “We completed the Poultry Master Plan to support chicken farmers and processors and save 54,000 jobs while creating new jobs. The industry is now focused on growth, greater production and more investment.”

A similar master plan for the sugar industry is being developed, with government, farmers and industrial users collaborating to save jobs in the sugar industry. The plan is expected to be finalised within the next six weeks.

Land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza during the State of the Nation address. Photo: South African government

As in last year’s SONA, Ramaphosa again highlighted agriculture as one of the industries with the greatest potential for growth.

“To date, we have released 44 000 hectares of state land for the settlement of land restitution claims, and will this year release round 700 000 hectares of state land for agricultural production,” he said.

“This year, we implement key recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture to accelerate land redistribution, expand agricultural production and transform the industry.

“Government stands ready – following the completion of the Parliamentary process to amend section 25 of the Constitution – to table an Expropriation Bill that outlines the circumstances under which expropriation of land without compensation would be permissible.”

Opportunities for cannabis farmers

He said the regulatory steps for the hemp and medicinal cannabis industries will be announced by the relevant ministers “soon”.

“This year we will open up and regulate the commercial use of hemp products, providing opportunities for small-scale farmers; and formulate policy on the use of cannabis products for medicinal purposes, to build this industry in line with global trends.”

The president also referred to water licenses when speaking about measures to build a business-friendly operating environment in the country and removing barriers to job creation.

“Water use licences, which are so essential to operations on farms, factories and mines, have previously taken an inordinately long time to process, sometimes up to five years. We are able to announce that water use licences are now issued within 90 days.”

Referring to the severe drought in many parts of the country, Ramaphosa said:

“Working with the Agricultural Research Council and other scientific and agricultural bodies, we have developed drought mitigation strategies that focus on developing drought resistant seeds, planting and storing fodder, removing of invasive plants
and management strategies to prevent soil degradation.”