Farmers not to blame for land reform failures

The letter by Tshepo Diale refers (24 February, pg 8). Land reform is essential to South African agriculture and the vast majority of commercial farmers agree and support it.

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However, the disastrous manner in which the land reform process has been managed by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) is scandalous to say the least, and possibly the waste of public funds is better described as criminal.

Spending public funds to empower previously disadvantaged individuals to become fully fledged commercial farmers is an honourable and commendable way in which to spend money. Sadly, however, the controls of these funds and the subsequent performance of the emerging farming operations is seldom adequately monitored nor are underperforming and/or undeserving beneficiaries removed.

Now commercial farmers are blamed for colluding on the price of land. This is absurd. The current situation is willing-buyer, willing-seller. Why does the government pay the inflated price instead of the realistic market value? After all, the DRDLR appoints its own valuers. How do these valuers reach the values? If farmers are buying land from each other at fair prices, why doesn’t the DRDLR get some farmers to assist in determining a value when a valuation comes in that is too high?

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I can name at least four examples of tomato farms bought in the East London area that have been purchased at astronomical prices (at least double the retail market value) and then on top of that had substantial grant funding for ‘recapitalisation’. This has made it impossible for a commercial farmer to buy a tomato farm there because the DLRDR has overpaid by so much and now sellers have expectations of high prices.

It is not the farmers who are the culprit, Diale, but rather the DLRDR officials and the valuers. I recently enquired about a farm for sale and the asking price was R8 million. Upon inspection of the operation, however, I believe it is worth, at most, R3,5 million. This opinion is based on my farming experience and having worked as an agri advisor for a major banking group.

Many DLRDR officials see commercial farmers as the enemy instead of embracing their experience and knowledge and using it to everyone’s benefit. There is no return on investment measurement for each land deal done and if so, very little is done about underperforming beneficiaries. Diale, you are welcome to visit me and have a constructive discussion on the matter.