THE BLOG
06/03/2018 09:49 SAST | Updated 06/03/2018 09:49 SAST

Access To Land Is Not Enough -- More Needs To Be Done

With historical inequality, the land wasn’t the only thing that black people were locked out of.

Nonkululeko Britton

One of my favourite things about my side hustle/passion (organic vegetable farming) is the conversations I find myself having with farmers. Most of the farmers I meet and do business with are small-scale farmers. The hardships are real for the small grower and in that, collective anguish creates some kind of invisible bond amongst the farmers.

The common theme in these conversations is around resources and the lack thereof. For many, access to water (especially groundwater) is a huge challenge. Others find it tough to gain access to a market to buy their produce – they're too small to supply retail yet have more surplus that is beyond what their surrounding community can consume.

This week I met a powerful female small-scale farmer (my heart skips a beat when I come across such a rare occasion). Mme Violet Mabaso farms at the Lenin Food Garden in Alexandra township, as part of a co-operative of farmers. She grows organically grown vegetables and specialises in herbs and preserving the vegetables and selling them in Sandton. She says she is so busy she can't keep up with the demand.

Then came the conversation about land. She and her fellow farmers are finding they need more space to produce more. The land they are currently occupying is owned by the government, which through Social Development funding initiatives is leased to farmer co-operatives.

Unfortunately, as part of a co-operative, you get designated your portion equally with other farmers – whether the others are as productive as you or not. I haven't come across many co-operatives that are entirely productive (all members working well together). The idea is actually an epic fail in my opinion, as it holds back people like Mme Violet who could use the space that other lazy farmers in the same co-operative are not making full use of.

My wish is that we learn lessons from a time when some land was given back to black farmers, yet without the skills and resources to make this land work we're setting ourselves up for more failure.

Of the 9-odd farmers that are part of the co-operative, Mme Violet's farming space is the most productive. I often think of what could become of some of these passionate, productive and business-savvy small-scale farmers if they just had access to more land and were able to produce in massive quantities we see with predominantly white farmers.

The prospect of access to more land, as is currently a heated topic, is an exciting one for these productive small-scale farmers. However, I strongly feel that it cannot stop there. With historical inequality, the land wasn't the only thing that black people were locked out of.

We also couldn't afford the input resources and equipment required to work the land – tractors, packhouses, boreholes, irrigation systems, processing plants etc. All these cost a lot of money that many cannot even dream of owning. And this will keep them from growing into viable commercial farmers.

My wish is that we learn lessons from a time when some land was given back to black farmers, yet without the skills and resources to make this land work we're setting ourselves up for more failure.

The passion and farming capability that Mme Violet and others have should be coupled with business training and access to storage and processing facilities to catapult them to the next level. I SO want her to succeed!