20/04/2018 12:55 SAST | Updated 20/04/2018 12:55 SAST

Selecting Best Potential Beneficiaries First Step To Making Land Reform Work

Agricultural progress should be promoting an inclusive, nonracial society – but choosing the most effective beneficiaries of land reform is crucial.

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The land-reform conversation in South Africa has taken a robust form since the ANC conference in December 2017. A resolution to expropriate land without compensation was taken. Subsequently, Parliament endorsed the position when the ANC voted in favour of an amended motion that had been introduced originally by the EFF.

One of the notable fruits of that motion as amended by the ANC, is a parliamentary committee tasked with consulting all stakeholders and reporting back to Parliament in August 2018.

Worth noting is that a lot of things in the name of land reform happened in South Africa from 1994 to date. Surprisingly, more negative than positive actions took place, which in many ways overshadow the positive strides done by government in addressing land reform.

Problems relate to the selection of land reform beneficiaries, support for those on redistributed land, and the creation of a conducive environment for land-reform beneficiaries such as access to markets and information, among others. But the start of this process – selecting the right land-reform beneficiaries – is perhaps the most crucial.

According to the business enterprise department of the University of Pretoria (2013, 2014), about 70-80 percent of these land-reform programmes are performing poorly, even though government is supporting them. The poor performance has been attributed to many things – among them the selection of beneficiaries with inadequate farming skills, poor selection of strategic partners, and a declining interest in farming – especially among the youth.

Formal agricultural magazines, for example, should work hand-in-hand to show practical evidence regarding proper land-reform methods

Selecting the right land-reform beneficiaries with adequate farming skills

Literature paints a picture suggesting that there are little or no farming skills within the black communities. However, the practical experience of the majority of the people living in rural areas prompts a different view altogether – the potential of communal farmers is badly reported or ignored.

Rural farmers, despite being forced by the National Party government during apartheid onto marginal lands – mountainous areas with stones and less arable soil – continued to produce and feed their children. Currently BKB, a leading South African agribusiness, is receiving significant amounts of wool from black farmers, some of whom have more than 700 sheep. Eastern Cape, for example, has many potential farmers who would be land-reform beneficiaries with adequate farming skills.

Eastern Cape provides the department of rural development and land reform with an opportunity to implement a radical socioeconomic transformation by redistributing all government-owned arable land to these potential farmers – say, anyone who owns more than 300 sheep or goats – rather than giving land to politically connected individuals, who in some cases know nothing about agriculture and have no passion or love for the farming business.

Evidently, in areas like Queenstown, Engcobo, Dutywa, Butterworth, there are people farming the rural areas with more than 300 sheep. Again, in areas such as Alice and King William's Town, there are farmers with more 300 goats per person – and those people are not receiving farms or land from government. Instead, beneficiaries without even a single head of livestock to their name have benefited from government land-reform programmes – hence the huge failure of the programmes.

To facilitate an effective, efficient land-reform programme, formal agriculture magazines and media should report the progress of prominent black farmers such as Mr Ntshilibe from Engcobo, Mr Mpukane from Dutywa and Mr Xhanti from Alice, to name just a few. Agricultural progress should be reported everywhere to promote an inclusive, nonracial society.

Currently, agriculture is facing huge threats from many political slogans by many political parties, which might tamper with our agricultural industry and threaten the nation's food security. Formal agricultural magazines, for example, should work hand-in-hand to show practical evidence regarding proper land-reform methods. Undoubtedly, this approach would be best in addressing the who are the right beneficiaries of land-reform programmes.

The department of rural development and land reform should give away a reasonable portion of government-owned farms to potential rural farmers.

The land-reform debate is a very sensitive matter in South Africa and as a result, it is one of the top priorities of government. The proposed approach of selecting good farmers is gaining traction among prominent ANC leaders in Eastern Cape – like Mr Oscar Mabuyane, who is one of the leaders who are passionate about rural agricultural development.

Agriculture is a capital-intensive process, requiring tractors, seed, fertiliser and technical assistance. Senior researcher at Cape Town's Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, Ruth Hall, partly explains this failure by explaining that black farmers entering the industry face increased competition.

"South Africa now has a very liberalised economy, in which new black farmers are competing not only with established white farmers, who have had the benefit of learning over time, but also with other producers on the global market." This is fundamental – and it requires robust, focused intervention from government.

The proposed approach seeks to fix the first step to land redistribution: the correct allocation of beneficiaries. This could change the performance of redistributed farmers, because giving a farm to someone who is already successfully managing 100 to 500 of their own livestock without government intervention makes more sense. It could change the failure of black farmers, as researched by Ruth Hall, completely.

The department of rural development should give away a reasonable portion of government-owned farms to those potential farmers, facilitated through extension officers in all regions. Concentrating on landless farmers who already manage a few hundred of their own livestock, be they sheep or goats, will prevent government from wasting money on supporting beneficiaries who can't farm optimally because of lack of skills or passion.