Start by supporting commercial farmers

Dr Reuel Khoza is a black farmer and chairperson of Aka Capital and the Nedbank Group. His family trust owns a 200ha export avocado and macadamia farm near Hazyview and is a 50% partner in the export packhouse HL Hall & Sons.

He’s seen why land reform farms are failing – and has his own views on what must be done to remedy the situation and ensure food security. It all starts, he says, with creating a supportive environment for commercial farmers, whose expertise is necessary to help new farmers.

The reason I wanted to farm is because I was a herd boy until the age of 17. I was raised by my grandparents, who farmed cattle, mealies, groundnuts, pumpkins and African beans on communal land around Bushbuckridge and Acornhoek, at a place called Emnombeleni, meaning “wild litchi”. We’d inspan the cattle the old way and I’ve always wanted to return to farming.

The farm we bought three years ago is in a highly productive area. Together with 10 other farmers, we export an average of 1,1 million trays of avocados each year. The packhouse is on our farm and our largest export markets are France, Germany and Britain. More recently, we started exporting to Dubai and Russia.

In farming, and business in general, I only partner with people with expertise and a proven track record. The farmers in our area really know how to produce and, when we bought our farm, I was completely upfront that my wife and I were in a learning mode. For this approach I can thank my late father, who told me, “In any new environment you need to use your intelligence to step back and learn from those with experience, who show results.”

Farmers’ help is indespensible
The farmers, who are mainly Afrikaans, welcomed us. They shared their knowledge, experience and hospitality in every way. When the trust bought the farm, nobody knew I had another job at the bank. They simply saw me as a new farmer wanting to make a go of things and they were there to help. With food security so important, I think the government and emerging black farmers would do well to appreciate how much goodwill there is out there among white commercial farmers, and to adopt my father’s approach.

Farming is expensive and highly complex, and if you try to go it alone without expertise, you will fail. To new black farmers who don’t have the knowledge and experience, you’re well-advised to be humble and to seek to learn. The established farmers will help you to build a solid foundation. I know this because I’ve experienced it for myself.

To the government, I say: hang onto the white commercial farmers you still have. When it comes to food security, you should be stopping at nothing to support all our farmers. Sort out the backlog of farms that have already been negotiated for land reform, and the outstanding payments before these farms become unproductive.In our area many land reform deals are still pending.

With no resolution in sight, many commercial subtropical fruit farmers are waiting in no man’s land for a deal to be reached. Meanwhile, they’ve been invited into Mozambique, where they’re establishing large commercial banana plantations. The president of Mozambique and the country’s ministry of agriculture are encouraging them to farm there and are helping them in every way, from providing fertile land to assisting with infrastructure and getting water to their farms.

It’s no easy environment, but they’re succeeding and already exporting, mainly to Joburg, several countries in southern Africa and abroad. The yield will grow substantially because they’re producing in a politically supportive environment.
 

A plan of action
If I was in charge of land reform in South Africa I would take serious note of the potential loss of expertise and income, and there are several steps I would immediately take to remedy the situation. I’d immediately establish a supportive environment for commercial farmers. I’d conduct a needs analysis of South Africa’s food requirements and of our food export potential to bring in revenue.

I’d look at the human resources necessary to achieve this, and start developing it without delay. I’d investigate the downward slide of many of our agricultural institutions and establish farming projects where agricultural graduates, or young emerging farmers with potential and a desire to farm, can be mentored by experienced farmers. The University of Limpopo, for example, has many such graduates, but there aren’t enough plans or projects in place to help them develop from there.

I’d transform the communal land system into a system of title deeds and land ownership. I’m wll aware of the enormity of this task, but indisputably ownership develops a sense of pride and value in the land. Many people say the traditional chiefs would oppose this, but I say they’d be amazed at how cooperative many would be.

They too want to develop, and I’m now helping several chiefs in Mpumalanga grow their Nguni cattle farming business. They see the opportunities and they know their needs. There are so many ”immediate” scenarios that government should have addressed by now. I believe it is the duty of our political leaders to be guided by what is in the best national interest, as opposed to short-term or selfish interests that destroy food security. If you create a mountain of bureaucracy, and you keep making it higher, people will eventually walk away.

Contact Reuel Khoza on 011 706 2992 or e-mail [email protected]