Hand in hand to ‘walk the commercial walk’

Beneficiaries of Rietspruit farm in Heidelberg, Gauteng, have formed partnerships with the former farm owners who are providing hands-on training and mentorship support programmes to help develop the emerging producers into fully fledged agricultural producers.

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Beneficiaries of Rietspruit farm in Heidelberg, Gauteng, have formed partnerships with the former farm owners who are providing hands-on training and mentorship support programmes to help develop the emerging producers into fully fledged agricultural producers. Fidelis Zvomuya reports.

COMMERCIAL FARMING mentorship and strategic partnering initiatives with emerging farmers may be great ingredients for the success of land redistribution and reform programmes to realise economic growth within the sector.

This “new age of hope”, as agriculture and land affairs minister Lulama Xingwana calls it, would see political disillusionment, negotiation stalemates and misinterpretation of restitution programmes slowly taking a back seat.

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In an interview with Farmer’s Weekly, Kudung Communal Property Association (CPA) chairperson Solomon Mothibe says farming skills can be best taught by a practitioner who has “walked the walk”, as this will enable the trainee to overcome difficult learning curves that may be involved in the business.

Mothibe and his community of 103 households, consisting of 2 392 people, were recently given 3 893ha comprising 15 portions of the Rietspruit farm in ¬Heidelberg, Gauteng, following a claim by the late Sonnyboy Abram Shikwane on behalf of the Kudung community before the 31 December 1998 cut-off date.

“Our main aim of bringing in strategic partners is for us to learn how we can utilise the land commercially,” Mothibe says. “We decided to give [commercial] farmers fixed leases and we will be part of the production cycle, so we will learn as they work. We still have to come up with a time frame for the lease of the property.”

The Kudung community was disposed of its property between 1964 and 1965 by the Berlin Missionary Society as sanctioned by the then apartheid government.  The farm currently ¬produces maize and livestock and the bene¬ficiaries have decided to continue with these operations.

Arno Kotzee, one of the 13 former farm owners, says they have accepted government’s land price offer of R19 million. Kotzee says as people who love and have a passion for land, they have offered voluntary mentorship assistance to train the beneficiaries. The commercial farmers will provide the technical aspects of agriculture to ensure that their current markets are supplied with the same product quality and quantity.

The claimants will be taught farming business, crop management, sound grazing principles, breeding, animal health, record-keeping, marketing and financial management skills.

“We will undertake a hands-on teaching approach, which will demand practical work with the community,” Kotzee says. “We expect the new farmers to be with us at 5am when we start farming. We are doing this to produce new commercial farmers.”

Kotzee says there’s no room for part-time farmers in the agricultural sector who combine agriculture with non-farming professions. He has farmed maize on 200ha on one of the farm’s portions for the last 15 years. ”I would love to see production increase from the 5,5 tons per hectare.” Another farmer Deon Lezar, was brought in by Kotzee to be part of the programme due to his vast experience in new farmer mentorship.

Despite the road to the final restitution settlement being rocky as the commercial farmers didn’t agree on government’s initial offer, the farmers are committed to impart their knowledge and skills to ensure the project doesn’t go under like others in South Africa, Kotzee says.

Project steering committee
A working plan will be developed between the community, farmers and the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs. The Land Claims Commission (LCC) has set up a project steering committee, which includes the Kudung CPA, the LCC, Sedibeng District Council, Midvaal Local Council, Bloekomspruit Agriculture and Gauteng’s departments of agriculture and land affairs. This committee will be looking at ways to use the land and how to deal with squatter problems.

Despite government blaming commercial farmers for delaying land reform, Xingwana says the government is looking to restitution as a way of addressing the legacies of the past and to create wealth among the previously disadvantaged. It’s also government policy not to leave beneficiaries on the margins of the formal economy. Commercial-emerging farming partnerships, Xingwana says, will enjoy strong support from her department.

“Such commercial farmers who are supporting government policies are becoming the greatest symbols to those who think restitution is a land grab,” Xingwana stresses. “We accept them as our good neighbours and strategic partners. We really need their expertise, experience and knowledge. We don’t want to lose such treasure.” Government has put aside R5 million to support the Kudung mentorship project to purchase inputs and for training. The department has spent over R24,2 million in total on the project.

“We have paid a market-related price for this farm and all parties involved are happy,” Xingwana says. “We have also put in R309 000 as a restitution discretionary grant, R148 320 as a settlement planning grant and R4,6 million as a Section 42C grant, which empowers me as minister to make funds available for settlement planning.”  The farm has three large houses, which Xingwana advises the beneficiaries use as guest houses to take advantage of tourism opportunities during the 2010 World Cup and beyond.

Lessons from land reform partnerships
A lot of positive results are being realised by such initiatives. One of the shinning examples is the Qedusizi/Besters land reform project in Ladysmith, KZN, where 42 white commercial farmers, labour tenants and government officials have forged a similar successful land reform model.

Seven of these commercial farmers are assisting 545 households, who were given 14 farms totalling 14 454ha, with mentorship programmes. They have assisted the labour claimants who, after lodging their claims, did not know what farming activity they wanted to undertake.

Another initiative is the Renoster¬rivier Project covering 2 000ha of farmland in Edenville, Free State, where a group of Afrikaner businessmen accepted President Thabo Mbeki’s challenge to find a solution for land reform that would empower black farmers.

Also in Limpopo, where over 71 land reform projects have failed, the provincial government has teamed up with the company South African Farm Management, which is partnering with these failed projects and setting up operating companies to get them back on their feet.

“These initiatives will address challenges faced by land reform in general, such as a lack of post-settlement support, the development of sustainable business models, broad-based empowerment and technical skills transfer,” Xingwana says.
Lesedi municipality mayor Mulungisi Hlongwane points out that the South African model will show countries such as Zimbabwe how best practice land reform can be done without jeopardising production. As local government, he says they will provide the necessary developmental support the farmers may need.

When asked about the issue of some project leaders who use leases for their personal loans resulting in some land being auctioned by financial institutions, Xingwana says they have come up with a way that will not allow land to be sold or used for credit purposes without the involvement of her department.

Contact Solomon Mothibe on 083 544 9221.

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