Landownership important for smallholders to afford minimum wage

Smallholder farmers could afford to pay the new minimum wage if they were competitive and successful.

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But for this to happen, farmers needed title to their land, according to Mike Mlengana, president of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa). Mlengana said this was one of the proposals it had made to deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe and Gugile Nkwinti, rural development and land reform minister, after the recent stakeholder meeting between farmers and farm workers in Paarl in the Western Cape.

Mlengana said Afasa welcomed the farm workers’ minimum wage hike. “We can’t just reject whatever government proposes without giving it a chance.” But he said for smallholder farmers to pay the minimum wage in their current situation would be impossible and that government should come up with possible solutions. Mlengana said Afasa had proposed tax incentives, subsidies and granting farmers title to the land they occupy.

Mlengana said owning land would make it possible for farmers to make meaningful investments on their farms which would increase and improve production. According to Mtobeli Mxotwa, spokesperson for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, the minister would consider suggestions and proposals made by all stakeholders. However, Mxotwa said the decision to give title to farmers with government having the first right of refusal cannot be made by the minister alone.

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Mlengana said that getting title to land should come with conditions and suggested that farmers be given an option to buy if they had been productive on that farm for at least five years. “The farmer should have a good track record and should employ a certain number of people,” said Mlengana. “The state should have a first right of refusal should the farmer want to sell.”