Improve farmer support first – industry

Researchers and other agriculture stakeholders say support services to small-scale farmers and beneficiaries of land reform should be strengthened before government reopens land claims.

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President Jacob Zuma announced in his State of the Nation address that the lodgement process would be reopened to accommodate those who missed the previous cut-off dates or were unable to claim because their land was taken pre-1913. Since the announcement, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has been preparing itself for the reopening by meeting with communities who were previously excluded from filing as well as with other stakeholders.

As part of this process, the department recently attended a parliamentary workshop on redressing the legacy of the 1913 Land Act. But many of the contributors said support to land reform beneficiaries and small-scale farmers, especially those living in former homeland areas, was lacking and should be addressed as a matter of urgency. 

According to Dr Peter Jacobs, a research specialist in the Economic, Performance and Development Research Programme at the Human Sciences Research Council, government’s many support models for small-scale farmers have been implemented in an unco-ordinated manner, often providing support to only a small group of farmers.

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He said the extent to which farmers had access to support varied from one province to the next. “Support is unco-ordinated and very much concentrated in small clusters. This polarisation of support is what I refer to as ‘backing a winning horse’.”
Jacobs said government departments and the support programmes they ran were under pressure to spend their budgets.

“As a result, the small number of small-scale farmers accessing markets and moving forward tend to receive the most support from the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP), because backing these successful farmers looks good on the books. Meanwhile, the larger number of smallholder subsistence farmers, those who are really struggling, end up getting very little support.”

Theo de Jager, the deputy president of Agri SA, agreed that support to beneficiaries had been lacking, but said supporting small-scale farmers was not the best way to transform the sector and address poverty and food security. De Jager said small-scale farming was a poverty trap, adding that agriculture should be used as a tool to create wealth by assisting existing small-scale producers to grow.

Dr Michael Aliber from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape, contradicted De Jager’s view, saying that through his research, he had found that most people who wanted access to land through restitution did not want to farm commercially, but were mostly concerned about tenure and food security.