Solving SA’s agricultural land allocation conundrum

The move by the government to lease 700 000 hectares of agricultural land to farmers is greatly welcomed.

Firstly, land usage will contribute to job creation and food security in the long term and secondly, it will increase the net contribution of agriculture to the country’s GDP.

Minister Thoko Didiza’s undertaking that beneficiaries will also be afforded resources to ensure the allocated land is utilised to its full capacity is much appreciated. This is exactly what several voices in the sector have been calling for.

We also note the minister’s commitment that beneficiaries who have been allocated State land and signed lease agreements will be subjected to a compulsory training programme.

It would be of utmost important if the training could be hands-on rather than only focusing on theory.

Going forward, we reckon that it would work in the sector’s favour if youth and women could be placed in incubation programmes for a period of one year, as part of a succession on land allocation.

The incubation model that will assist the government in-terms of selection processes for future beneficiaries, must be aligned to the current structure of Agri-park model.

The model can be developed in line with the commodity associations as part of the transformation agenda within the sector.

We further note and welcome the minister’s commitment to ensure a corruption-free allocation, but this, we do with a pinch of salt.

Why? Because we know that massive announcements such as this one often attracts opportunistic characters who would hijack genuine relief efforts at the expense of the government developmental mandate.

Having said that, we are of the opinion that it high time that we have an Agricultural Ombudsman that will investigate allegations of corruption, collusion and exploitation of farmers in the sector.

Regarding the selection process at district level, we strongly advocate that the vetting process must be strict because this is where you either get it right or completely miss it.

Are the farmer commodity associations going to be part of the process?  Do they have the list of the land identified by government for allocation in order for them to verify if it’s suitable for the proposed commodities by potential beneficiaries?  

The role of commodity associations can also include in assisting or advising the department on production cycles in order to align them with issuing of rental invoices to the farms. This is because the department’s intention to issue monthly invoices to the beneficiaries may not be in line with the farmers production cycles.

By all means minister, you should avoid mistakes of the past where farms were allocated to people who are unbale to make them productive, such as those who benefitted through the recapitalization programme.

We are mindful that while the recap has its good intentions, it also gave birth to the elephant in the room – the failed projects that are lying idle today. There must be decisive measures on how the department is going to deal with such.

So to avoid the misfortunes of the past, the current allocation should prioritise farmers who are on the state waiting list and those looking to expand their already existing productions.

Minister, we also note that this programme does not include any land in Gauteng and Western Cape, which understandable because of the state land shortage in both provinces.

But the typical question from a farmer who is currently farming in either Gauteng or Western Cape and looking to expand, would be whether or not they are eligible to apply for land outside of their provinces?

This needs to be looked into.   

Going forward, we need to take into consideration that the South African agricultural industry is still operating in a parallel mode of commercial and small holder, so for the success of private and public partnerships, it is of utmost important to come up with tangible commitments that are not only limited to mentorship and training but includes financial support and broad market access.    

In this regard, Minister, it is advisable to have a policy position on market access support to all state funded land beneficiaries through all spheres of government to ensure the return on the investment.  

In conclusion, we applaud the progress made since the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his February 2020 State of the Nation Address, where the department has released 135 117 hectares of land to 275 farmers, of which 160 are women and 114 youth. They hope they are also being supported with the necessary resources for them to start farming. It is sad though to note that only one person living with disability has benefitted.  We hope in the upcoming allocation, more people living with disability can be recognised. The myth that people living with disability cannot farm should be completely wiped out from the face of earth.

Act now and be hands-on in order to prevent any unnecessary hands in the cookie jar.

As the Nguni people say “ligotshwa lisemanzi” and the Bapedi people, in the same breath, would say “Tloga tloga e tloga kgale, modishi wa kgomo o tswa natso shakeng”.

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