Accelerated land reform in the wildlife ranching industry

The wildlife industry is committed to advancing land reform through partnerships, says WRSA’s Cobus du Toit. Annelie Coleman spoke to
him at Nampo.

South Africa’s wildlife industry is unique in that animals can be owned by the landowner. This in turn allows the landowner to practise game ranching, the main aim of which is the profitable utilisation of wildlife. But right now this industry, and indeed the entire agricultural sector, faces increasing difficulties because land reform as practised at the moment is simply not working.

Situational analysis
By now, 30% of South Africa’s agricultural land was supposed to have been transferred to black people. But this figure is currently not even at 10%. Their continued exclusion from the mainstream of the agricultural economy is not sustainable, and the only viable option to encourage economic growth is through the meaningful participation of black people in key productive sectors of the agricultural economy.

Land claims are due to be re-opened for the next five years, at a planned cost of R179 billion. Yet redistributed farms have generally failed dismally. The willing-seller, willing-buyer concept is off the table, and rhetoric about land grabs is ongoing. At the same time, new activists for land reform are in parliament, and emotions will become harder to control.

Deep concerns
Many are of the opinion that land reform is in a mess. It has been pointed out that restituted farms generally do not make a profit and are sliding backwards. The poor track record of production on restored farms has prompted grave concerns, even in government, that using the present approach to large rural unsettled claims will cause massive declines in production, sever the linkages to industries in the value chain, and lead to job losses in the sector.
This anxiety has fused with landowner and investor complaints about the uncertainty created by outstanding restitution claims, especially where high-value farming and mining land is at stake.

The urgency for transformation
The need for transformation in the sector has never been more urgent. It is not a problem for a single body; it is the joint responsibility of society, the economy, and agriculture, as well as government at all levels. But government officials have so far lacked the capacity to tackle the challenges of land reform and transformation. This has been exacerbated by cancerous corruption.

A properly planned and packaged land reform support programme is crucial. But for this to serve its purpose properly, government must make finances available and channel these correctly. Ideally, this support should be channelled via a formalised programme that contains, inter alia, the elements of a rural support programme.

Changing conditions
With the hostile political environment that exists around SA agriculture at the moment, it is of the utmost importance that farmers adapt to the changing conditions if they are to survive. As a result of the demands placed on the government by its electorate, there is a great deal of pressure on the agriculture sector to begin significantly implementing land reform. The National Planning Commission has recently become more vocal and has stated that it believes 20% of land should immediately be transferred from white to black. The national government is to take the lead in this expedited transformation – formulating policies and processes, arranging funding, and providing sustainable support.

WRSA and land reform

Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) urges rapid and proactive transformation in the wildlife farming industry and so increase the involvement of government, farmers – commercial, emerging and small-scale – foreign investors and producers. The industry is committed to promoting economic development and growth, and will continue facilitating transformation projects and creating success stories.

Recent discussions on transformation have stressed how wildlife utilisation can become part of a wider, regional integrated development strategy in support of the National Planning Commission’s land reform drive to enhance land reform by bringing black farmers into the wildlife farming industry. To achieve these land reform goals, commercial wildlife farmers should identify partnership opportunities and communicate these to new aspiring farmers allocated land under the restitution programme.

Where possible, they should also assist in the initiation of wildlife-based enterprises, offering expert advice and helping to establish the economic and financial implications of such enterprises, and the attitudes of local rural communities towards wildlife exploitation.

The wildlife industry intends strongly marketing its stance that by facilitating the opening of the industry to the second economy, it would bring lucrative benefits to people in rural areas.

Acting as a catalyst
Wildlife farmers could play a significant role in partnering and facilitating land reform projects, or even originating them. This in turn could help to create opportunities for the Land Bank, government and various relevant organisations. Such a catalytic role could:

  • accelerate transformation and land reform;
  • significantly accelerate rural development;
  • reduce the chances of food insecurity;
  • contribute to the ‘green economy’;
  • strengthen the economic base of rural municipalities and the national economy. 

Economic viability
Whether land reform will contribute to the green economy and enhance biodiversity depends on the economic viability of the land and the way in which the land is used by beneficiaries. This in turn depends on their skills, resource capacity, access to agricultural support services, available support programmes, and market conditions.

Before agricultural projects and emerging commercial farmer settlements get the green light, it’s crucial to determine the sustainability of each project. Profitability is initially low, cash flow difficulties normally arise just after start-up, and risks and uncertainty discourage private sector participation in the short and medium term.
it’s in our hands

Transformation of South Africa’s agricultural sector is essential to economic progress, as well as peace and harmony. The wildlife industry, backed by its resources and commitment to South Africa’s wildlife heritage, is ready to take up the challenge and facilitate the process.

The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly