Land and agriculture minister Lulama Xingwana promised parliament that the rudderless Land Bank will have an executive team in place by early next month that will bring an end to the shambles at the embattled parastatal.
he bank has been plagued by resignations, suspensions, dismissals and allegations of fraud and corruption. The instability prompted several large agricultural cooperatives to indicate that they intended to shift billions in loans to commercial banks.
ast month, Xingwana appointed a new board chaired by lawyer Themba Langa. He immediately froze the appointment of all consultants, as well as decisions of the Credit Risk Committee, which authorises loans of up to R100 million. He told Farmer’s Weekly last month that the board’s priority was to appoint a new CEO, but admitted several candidates approached were reluctant to join the bank. The previous CEO, Alan Mukoki, left under a cloud after forensic investigators were appointed to look into the bank’s financial management.
Xingwana told parliament’s Affairs Committee that the board had “hit the ground running”. It had convened three times and held three further meetings with Operations, two with Human Resources, three with the Audit Committee, two with Credit and Risk, and one with the Land Bank’s Insurance Company Board, she said. “This high incidence of meetings is precipitated by the need to stabilise the bank.”
he bank has lost billions in equity in the last five years, mostly through bad loans. It now wants billions more from the state to be able to fulfil its development mandate.
In a report presented to the committee by acting CEO Saki Zamxaka, the bank said only 20% of its R4,2 billion retail book could be classified as developmental loans for emerging farmers. It wanted to separate its loan portfolio into two business centres: the emerging farmers fund and commercial farmers fund. It wanted emerging farmer loans matched with government grants to ensure future viability.
“There’s scope to focus on the development of emerging farmers in line with the government’s priority to redistribute 5 million hectares of land and establish about 10 000 entrepreneurs thereon in two years,” the report said, but is based on the assumption that the Bank becomes the preferred facilitator of this programme, which is far from clear.
The bank also wants funds raised from the capital markets to be guaranteed by government for the development loan book. For the commercial book, the funds will be raised without a government guarantee. – Stephan Hofstätter
UK community gardens a local solution
England’s urban areas are dotted with community gardens like this one in the South West England town of Bath.
These community-managed projects range from tiny wildlife gardens to fruit and vegetable plots on housing estates, from community polytunnels to large city farms. These farms and gardens are created in response to a lack of access to green space, combined with a desire to encourage strong community relationships and an awareness of gardening and farming. This organic garden produces fruit and vegetables all year round for volunteers to enjoy themselves and sell at the Bath Farmers’ Market.
Similar projects could bring relief for SA’s poorest of the poor, who are struggling to survive current high food costs. Instead, the tripartite alliance partners advocate grants and food coupons to be issued to the poor, increasing their dependence on the government. – Alita van der Walt