Throwaway quotes damage agriculture & investment

A strategic plan by the department of Rural Development and Land Reform for 2010 to 2013, mooting a form of land nationalisation and a change to the constitution, has been discounted by major agricultural organisations as a minority notion.

However, these organisations also warned that the vocalisation of minority agendas embarrasses government and inflicts lasting damage on agriculture.

“The success of any investment policy depends on the preservation of property rights,” said CEO of the SA Poultry Association Kevin Lovell. “It’s our view that these statements about turning productive land into a ‘national asset’ are not the view of the state, but merely of an arm of the state, and that the freehold system will remain intact.”

Stone Sizani, chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform, said the department spoke out of turn when it tabled the controversial proposal. He pointed out that such plans did not exist “within ANC structures”. He said the public debate should wait until after the Green Paper on land reform was tabled.

“At last, it has become clear that officials in the department are pushing an agenda which is not mandated,” said Agri SA deputy president Dr Theo de Jager. He said the time had come for government to speak with one voice on land reform to avoid further embarrassment.

Dr de Jager said he was aware of five foreign companies that had chosen to disinvest in South African agriculture as a result of land reform director-general Thozi Gwanya’s statements. “I won’t name them because these companies retain an interest in doing business in South Africa on some level, but what I can say at a thumbsuck is that their withdrawal represents a disinvestment of well over R100 million.

“I can also say that comments like Gwanya’s have sown unease particularly among German, Dutch and Israeli companies that are active in Lowveld food processing. We’re reliant on these players for bringing new technology into the country, as well as for the market access they open in their home countries. It’s of great concern to us that throwaway comments about nationalising land will narrow market access to these countries.”

Meanwhile, individual confusion about the strategic plan still remains, with many saying it has had an impact on morale.

“He’s nuts!” vented a South Coast macadamia and banana farmer. “The first thing I want to know is will they pay us for land or just nationalise it? How will we borrow money from the bank if the land isn’t even ours? If they give farmers a 99-year lease like they do in Mozambique that would maybe make sense, but to give a short lease for a crop that has a five- or 10-year cycle is crazy.”

A Midlands citrus farmer said, “There’s really no incentive to reinvest in your land and to make long-term investments like road maintenance and dam construction. Food security isn’t created by having access to land. It’s created by people who know how to produce food and have incentives to do it.” – Sean Christie
(Additional reporting by Robyn Joubert)