Aggrey Mahanjana’s land reform plans

Giving productive land to deserving beneficiaries, upgrading communal herds
and government regulation of land prices are some of the ideas National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (Nerpo’s) managing director and outspoken black cattle farmer Aggrey Mahanjana has to get land reform on track, writes Peter Mashala.
Issue date : 16 January 2009

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Giving productive land to deserving beneficiaries, upgrading communal herds
and government regulation of land prices are some of the ideas National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (Nerpo’s) managing director and outspoken black cattle farmer Aggrey Mahanjana has to get land reform on track, writes Peter Mashala.

What are the challenges facing agriculture?
Constantly increasing input costs. Profit margins are being challenged every day and as a result the sector is becoming less profitable. Another problem is the slow pace of land reform is worsened by lack of funding. Land Affairs does not have enough funds for land reform programmes, which makes it even tougher for private individuals to purchase land for agricultural development.

But will it help to give Land Affairs more money?
After all, they were unable to account for R1,15 billion this year alone. Inadequate funding and the capacity of Land Affairs to manage funds are two different issues, which should be treated separately. We need adequate funds from the National Treasury to support land reform.

We also need to empower the relevant government departments to properly manage those funds so that there is delivery on the specific mandates.
At present, Land Affairs does not have adequate capacity to properly administer these funds and has to be assisted by organisations such as commercial banks and farmer organisations.

Do you think capacity problems are hampering the efficiency of both Land Affairs and the agriculture department?
Yes. Nowhere in the world has a government successfully managed to deliver efficiently and effectively without assistance or cooperation from relevant stakeholders. The role of government should be to provide an appropriate policy framework. Delivery on specifics should be left to experts.

How does Nerpo propose to solve the land reform problems?
Our policy position is that we have adequate agricultural land but unfortunately this land is not accessible to most people because of overpricing. The government has a major role to play in ensuring equitable land redistribution.
Any policy review on land must not only look at expropriating land or increasing grants to beneficiaries, but also regulating the price of land. Exorbitant land prices are killing the sector as individuals buying land will not be able to make profit, impacting on food security. The guiding principle should be the value of land in terms of production value rather than market value.

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An alternative and more radical approach would be to nationalise land and let the state repossess or expropriate all unused agricultural land and lease it for not more than 99 years to the needy or previously disadvantaged individuals who are capable of maintaining it in its productive state.

These individuals should be allowed a grace period of about three to five years during which they should not pay capital, interests, taxes etc. The beneficiaries of land reform should be entitled to government support programmes as a package when receiving the land.

Don’t you think land reform pushes up land prices?
Most certainly – it follows the general supply and demand rule. When demand is high and supply remains constant, the prices go up. This is why we recommend the regulation of agricultural land prices.

How would the “correct” beneficiaries be identified?
The appropriate individual should have knowledge and experience in agriculture and farming and some form of equity either in the form of labour, skills, financial inputs or relevant assets. These criteria would apply to commercial agricultural land. In terms of the rural poor, the criteria should be to give land to individuals who do not have land for farming. This should be underpinned by the real need for agricultural land.

What restrictions, if any, should be placed on landownership by foreigners?
Laws and regulations should clearly state that all agricultural land shall only be sold to South African citizens. Anyone else should only be allowed to lease agricultural land for a period of not more than 50 years.

How can the issue of unproductive land be dealt with?
Legislation on land utilisation should be passed and government should be vigilant in monitoring properties that are not being utilised for agricultural purposes. It must identify the owners who should be given a time frame in which to use the land or increase production, or it will be given to someone else.

If the unproductive land you are referring to includes unused land, I must state that such land exists in both commercial farming areas and rural areas. The guiding principle should be to redistribute and/or lease such land to those who are willing and able to ensure its productivity.

But what about land use in enterprises such as game farms? Research has shown that these generate more money and jobs than extensive stock farms, for example. Should farms always produce food only?
Game farming is a recognised alternative land use option, which promotes tourism.
We should have national land use plans outlining specific areas in the country where game farming should take place. Game farming practised in an appropriate environment should be allowed. However, government must ensure that different land uses are properly regulated to ensure that food security is not compromised.

What about communal land?
Some of our most fertile ground lies in the former homelands like the Transkei.
Communal land could be better utilised, as vast tracts are lying fallow.
The problem is that government is always targeting individuals and whites for land. Targeting rural areas should be the first step. Communal land generally lies in areas with poor infrastructure and predominantly congested areas. Hence land use in these areas needs to be improved where necessary.

Do you think commercial farmers are pulling their weight when it comes to helping emerging farmers?
Some white commercial farmers understand and cooperate with initiatives that seek to empower emerging black farmers, although a large percentage disagrees with the major principles that underpin land reform.
However, most commercial farmers are also struggling to properly fund their enterprises, which makes it difficult for them to support others.

What would you do regarding land reform if you were the agriculture and land affairs minister?
I would ensure that government policies are implemented efficiently to promote equitable access to national resources, as our democratic constitution clearly stipulates. I would encourage the state to invest more in the agriculture sector and create a policy framework that will encourage the private sector to do the same.

How can we get back to being a nett exporter of agricultural goods?
A close examination of agriculture statistics shows that the last three decades has seen a reduction in investment in real terms. The number of commercial farmers and the area of agricultural land have decreased. We need to devote more resources to agriculture and provide appropriate incentives where possible to improve productivity.

How can we get the vast communal herds into the red meat value chain?
We need to encourage farmers to run their enterprises as businesses and provide them with necessary information and material resources to do so.
We must show them how they can benefit from the value chain.
Not every farmer will respond positively, but those who come on board will hopefully become a source of encouragement for others. The insecurity behind the land tenure system in communal areas must also be addressed.

Emerging farmers rather sell old animals and not the weaners preferred by feedlots. How can this mindset be changed?
Selling old animals is probably the best option for these farmers, given their circumstances and their type of production system.
We should consider the local demand and prices which those old animals can fetch from local buyers. Communal farmers need to be educated on some of these issues and given options.

What is Nerpo doing to help emerging farmers become more productive?
We recently launched the Presidential Bull & Heifer Project in eMngqesha in King William’s Town. The idea is to build stud herds in all the traditional kingdoms under the management of the kings. The chiefs will make the herds’ offspring available for breeding purposes to members of the community.

The project also aims to improve the quality of livestock in the emerging sector. The next step will be to develop abattoirs and feedlots in the villages.
We believe that this approach can go a long way in bridging the gap between the second and first economies in the livestock sector and we hope it will empower traditional leaders to improve conditions, including the grazing resources of communal farmers under their jurisdiction.     |fw