Foreign investors are taking their business to Nigeria – Pieter Mulder

The message President Jacob Zuma sent out last night (12 February) during the State of the Nation address (SONA) with his announcement that new proposed laws would place a 12 000ha cap on land ownership, was that he did not understand how modern agriculture worked.

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This was according to the former deputy minister of agriculture and leader of the FF Plus, Dr Pieter Mulder.

In an interview with Farmer’s Weekly after the SONA, Mulder said a ceiling on land ownership would not solve any problems, but instead sow more seeds of uncertainty for the farming sector.

In modern agriculture, Mulder said, farmers were beating the cost-price squeeze by increasingly relying on the benefits of economies of scale.

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The president was also sending mixed messages to foreign investors by saying that foreigners would not be allowed to own land in South Africa, he said.

“In Davos [at the meeting of the World Economic Forum] he [Zuma] asks for much-needed foreign investment in South Africa and here he says, no, foreigners cannot own land,” Mulder said.

During an overseas visit in November last year Mulder was told by foreign investors that due to government’s decision to prohibit foreign land ownership they would rather “take their money to Nigeria or Mexico”.

Agri SA president, Johannes Möller also commented on the mixed signals coming from the country’s leaders on land matters.

Land reform minister Gugile Nkwinti welcomed organised agriculture’s inputs on land reform last year and envisaged a time frame for interaction in this regard, but President Zuma’s announcement in his address deviated radically from this, said Möller.

“This creates doubt and concern within agriculture as to whether the government is serious about consultation around land reform,” said Möller in a statement.

“It creates the impression that populist statements in this case weigh heavier with the government than sustained food production and economic development.”

Möller said the sentiment among foreign investors was: “Mandela is dead and it [South Africa] seems to be turning into a banana republic, we will have to wait and see what happens”.

Speaking to Farmer’s Weekly earlier this month, Mike Mlengana, president of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa) said the association supported the principle of land ceilings because it would prevent a situation where a small group of people held a monopoly on land.

Afasa also supported the ANC’s stance on foreign land ownership. “We don’t want foreigners to buy large tracts of land in South Africa which they will only use to produce food for their own countries,” said Mlengana.

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