Land reform: progress, challenges

5 June 2012

Between 1994 and 2011, South Africa transferred over 6.8-million hectares of land to people dispossessed under apartheid, according to a government mid-term review report released in Pretoria last week.

This represents 27% of the government’s target of transferring 24.5-million hectares by 2014.

The report, released by Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Collins Chabane in Pretoria on Friday, reviews the progress made by the current administration at the November 2011 mid-point of its 2009-14 electoral term.

It indicates that from 2009 to December 2011, about 823 300 hectares of land were acquired and allocated to 20 290 beneficiaries, an improvement over previous years that “indicates that our systems are improving”.

In addition, 76 368 land claims relating to 2.9-million hectares of land under the Land Restitution Programme were settled. A total of 712 of these claims, for 292 995 hectares, were settled between 2009 and December 2011, against a target of 1 845 claims for the period.

Realities around the land issue

However, the report also points to some of the realities associated with the complex land issue in South Africa.

“The process of acquiring and distributing a particular piece of land is often lengthy, and this escalates the cost of redistribution because the former owner stops investing in the land,” the report states. “Many of the farms are therefore in a poor state of repair at the point of acquisition.”

In addition, the report finds, there is often a decline in productivity on redistributed farms.

This led to the adoption, in November 2010, of a recapitalisation programme aimed at increasing food production and job creation through the commercialisation of small farmers.

By December 2011, 595 farms were in the process of being rehabilitated. However, the report notes, the focus of rehabilitation has been on rebuilding infrastructure, and there is a risk that, without adequate farmer support and development, the farms could again decline in future.

Also, some of the beneficiaries have indicated that the policy of allocating land to them on a 99-year leasehold basis is an impediment to investment in the land, and that they would prefer to be given full ownership.

“However, this could result in beneficiaries selling the land,” the report says. “There is a need for this challenge to be investigated further to ascertain the degree to which it is limiting the success of the transferred farms.”

Better post-settlement support needed

Inadequate post-settlement support and lack of suitable markets mean that few land reform beneficiaries are progressing into sustainable farming enterprises. Less than one in 20 land reform beneficiaries have benefited from either Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) grants or Micro-Agricultural Finance Institutions of South Africa (Mafisa) loans.

Officials also note that 11 000 new smallholder farmers have been established since 2009, out of a target of 50 000.

Although support has been provided to both new and long-established farmers through programmes such as CASP, Letsema, the Recapitalisation and Development Programme and Mafisa, only a marginal number of 5 381 smallholders are involved in agribusinesses and a mere 3 910 are linked to markets.

“To achieve success, smallholder farmers require a comprehensive agribusiness support package, including favourable commodity pricing, access to finance, provision of technical expertise/mentorship and contracted markets,” the report states.

“However, no convincing support package is yet in place; government initiatives tend to cause dependency, and the sector is struggling. Government should consider providing better incentives for commercial farmers who are willing and capable of mentoring smallholder farmers.

“More support is needed for farms in distress and additional incentives are needed for interventions to strengthen [existing] services and to encourage the adoption of new production and processing models that also conserve natural resources.”

Investment in agriculture and agro-processing is central to food security in South Africa, as farmers’ incomes and agricultural job creation are highly dependent on global economic conditions and global markets, the report notes.

This, combined with challenges such as climate change and uncertainty around land reform, has resulted in a decrease in the number of commercial farmers, a decrease in total production levels, a higher volume of food imports and higher food prices.

The report suggests that this has discouraged new entrants into the sector, which in turn is prejudicing its contribution to job creation.

Source: BuaNews