An Infertile Plan Without Specific Sector Business Assistance

Frank Winder, CEO of Advanced Nutrients believes that any agricultural redistribution plan will not achieve its required long term political outcome unless the agricultural potential of all South African agricultural land is achieved on an on-going basis and in such a way as to ensure ‘food security and safety’.

Many agriculturally focussed business plans are devised by agricultural economists, financiers and accountants who produce theoretically workable business plans. These plans are often based on theoretical crop production potential. The key to the success of these plans lies in ensuring that the farms’ potential is achieved. This can only be done by exercising the necessary on-farm agronomic and production skills.

In order to effect this, focus needs to be placed on the technical aspects of farm-based operations.  These plans need to include the assistance of specialised agricultural businesses with suitable skills to ensure the required commercial outcome of the transferred farmlands.

Says Winder, “We fully understand the underlying issues that are associated with the concept of ‘land redistribution’. It is a reality in South Africa which needs to be carried out  in a legal and politically acceptable manner in order to keep economic and political stability in South Africa and to develop the potential of a business sector which is growing rapidly in importance . Our impression is that most ‘commercial farmers’ understand the process and really want to get on with putting the process into effect and in many areas the outcome of the current process has been concluded and everyone is getting on with life.”

“One of the risks is that the theoretical political process has been carried out and the land has changed hands, but no thought has been given apparently to ensuring the sustainability of the farming operations concerned and as a result potential supply and security of food is put at risk.”

“The difficulties in effectively ensuring the achievement of these two requirements is leading to frustration and heightened emotions in many political camps, some predicating dire food shortages for South Africa and others calling for out right, Zimbabwe style land grabs. Both of which would have dire consequences for South Africa, its economy and its population as a whole,” says Winder. “Simply put, in order for South Africa’s agricultural lands to maintain their required output, it is vital that recipients of redistributed land be given assistance to ensure sustainable crop output at the same or higher levels as before.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has stated that the property clause of the Constitution must be changed so that land reform can be sped up. “This is not just the land problem we’re talking about, this is an inequality issue which represents a threat to the long term political stability of the country,” said Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

“However, without the assistance of companies with the necessary capacity in the farming sector, any programme to redistribute farmlands will be hard to make successful if not impossible. The perceptions relating to the ineffectiveness of ‘redistribution programmes’ will remain a problem and even a growing source of embarrassment as long as the physical farming operations do not receive the attention that they deserve. There is a cruel perception that once agricultural land has been redistributed the end game has been achieved from a political perspective. The reality is that the business of ensuring the profitability and sustainability (and thereby ‘food security and safety’) has only just begun.  This is the area for real agricultural expertise,” says Winder.

A recent paper by the University of Pretoria, ‘Evaluating land reform’s contribution to South Africa’s pro-poor growth pattern’ by Ward Anseeuw and Ntombifuthi Mathebula said that “to date, land reform has not significantly changed the socio-economic aspects of the lives of the large majority of the beneficiaries, leading to no significant income distribution and to the questioning of the (pro-poor?) growth pattern South Africa has adopted. Based on a broader empirical survey concerning the evaluation of all land reform programmes, with a focus on the findings regarding the land reform projects of the Mode-mole municipality in the Limpopo Province, the paper details that out of the 42 projects assessed, only 3 show significant development, 20 are entirely abandoned or show no activity, economic or social, at all. In the context of the broad definition of development, only 0.4% of the official beneficiaries are benefiting in any way from the projects; those with a significantly improved quality of life are even fewer. At the same time, land reform has caused an 89.5% decrease in production as well as many job losses on the affected farms.”

“These farms cannot become viable commercial enterprises without the support and assistance of businesses that have experience and expertise in the relevant fields of agriculture. More crucially though, the more this happens the more we’ll begin seeing declines in our agricultural output, leading to food shortages. Businesses with knowledge in certain areas should be utilised by government to assist farmers who are finding themselves in situations where they require external assistance in making ventures a success,” continues Winder.

“Many farms that were productive at a stage are now lying fallow and not producing.   Sustainability has now become a prime concern for successful farming in the long term.”

“Recent reports have highlighted a looming famine in Zimbabwe brought on by the massive grain deficit in the country after Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that a state crop assessment showed that a third of the 1.689 million hectares put under maize had been declared a write-off.”

“This is a prime example of how the questionable methods of land redistribution and lack of planning in Zimbabwe to assist the resettled indigenous people, undermined the success of the land reform programme.”   

The benefits of a soundly structured agricultural business sector extend further than food security and supply for South Africa. As food related issues come into focus on a worldwide basis many Asian, European and American entities (both state and private) are looking beyond their borders  for land to grow crops on after finding themselves with less and less land available for agriculture, due largely to population growth. Africa, with its vast tracts of high potential unused or underutilised land has been attracting a lot of attention and if the necessary scientific, environmental and technological expertise is associated with this thrust, it could have big economic and developmental implications for Africa. The key to the success of such enterprises will be adequate and effective control ” says Winder.

Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti elaborated on government’s 2014 land reform target, which followed President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address in which he said that the pace of land redistribution is “slow and tedious". Nkwinti said there are 82 million hectares of agricultural land in South Africa and Government aims to transfer 30% of this to black farmers by 2014, a total of 24.5 million hectares.

“However, it is becoming more and more evident that this cannot be done without proper management of the farms after redistribution as well as Government’s involvement to help farmers take advantage of a growing worldwide demand for agricultural products. Which needs to be achieved with the correct farming techniques, sales avenues and business connections,” says Winder.

“Methods and approaches which we use in our programmes show clearly that it is possible to considerably reduce the normal volumes of fertiliser and agricultural chemicals used in agricultural production programmes and achieve the same or even better results in terms of yield and quality. Other benefits our growers see on a regular basis are a reduction (of probably between 30 and 50%) in the requirement for irrigation water, which is a spin-off from the higher humus content in the soils that we work with and the reality is that often less irrigation is better than more irrigation (which sometimes is contrary to what one might expect). A reduction in the use of irrigation water also results in a considerable reduction in electricity consumption.  In fact, over irrigation may cause problems with crop health by creating anaerobic conditions that kill beneficial microbial populations.

“The longer it takes to turn farming practices around, the worse the situation gets. We would welcome the opportunity of working in partnerships on suitable projects to evaluate agricultural processes and assist in developing a healthy and prosperous agricultural business sector. We need to get ‘stuck-in’, avoid the perpetuation of poor agricultural practices and strategies and concentrate on the right approaches and techniques for creating partnerships with new farmers in a bid to benefit South Africa as a whole,” concludes Winder.


Agricultural Land Redistribution: An Infertile Plan Without Specific Sector Business Assistance

By Justin Hayward, Communications Consultant of Lion’s Wing

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