15 October 2012

Day 118: Drop in Agricultural Farmland Threatens South African Food Security

The Agricultural sector in South Africa is suffering extensively.

Over the past 16 years, 20 000 agricultural farms have ceased production and is set to fall from 40 000 to 15 000 over the next 15 years


A number of reasons are given, being: farmers are no longer being subsidised for labourers' housing or farm schools, uncertainty about water usage rights, poor disease control, government incompetence and policies lacking the incentives for job creation.

But the main reason that is raised is the issue of land reforms. As part of South Africa's land reform policy as an attempt to correct the evictions that took place during the Apartheid regime, claims can be made to certain sites of land on the grounds that it is part of ancestral heritage. "A new law that has focused attention on land issues will allow the government to expropriate land for restitution where negotiations on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis fail (Thomson, A.)."

The title deeds of the property, after it having been expropriated by the governments are then given to the claimants who then own the farm.

Why is this a problem? Very simplistically: many effective and efficient commercial farmers lose their land to another that is not necessarily a farmer - and in most cases, isn't. There are only very few examples of claimed farms that are actually being maintained or improved after the transfer. In most cases, the new owners will attempt to make as much profit from what the farm currently has to offer, but lack the desire or experience to actually manage and run the farm effectively over a long-term period in such a way that the farm contributes to the feeding of the South African population.

A simple example is a farm that was full of fruit trees, where instead of continuing to produce and sell the fruit - the new owners simply cut down all the trees and sold them for firewood, after which they didn't see any more value in the property and simply left - still holding the title deeds to the farm. The farm was the previous owner's life work and he saw it being destroyed in a matter of months.

Imagine the amount of agricultural farms dropping from 60 000 to 15 000 over a period of 30 years and then consider the implications this has on South Africa's food security!

The problem is not only that well-operating farms are being turned into wastelands after them being claimed - the simple possibity of one's farm being expropriated understandably creates extensive reluctance in farmers to invest in their farms and expand them, as there is no certainty that they will still own the farm in 1 or 2 years. So, not only a massive amount of farms that took years to be established are lost, but the remaining farms are not expanding their production capabilities to make up for the loss in numbers.

It should be understood that the past is the past, and yes, many mistakes were made. But to try and fix the mistakes of the past in the present is simply another big mistake if it means endangering the South African agricultural economy, which will affect everyone - whether one's ancestors had been evicted several decades ago or not.

In the name of 'doing good' and 'making good gestures' an ideological way, the practicality of the matter has been completely overlooked and the practical consequences are starting to rear their heads.

This is only considering one dimension of the problem. Consider the farmers losing their land - what is a farmer to do without a farm? Farming is a holistic profession and a life-long dedication - farmers generally do not possess the skills for other jobs, they simply excel at being a farmer - when this option has been stripped for them, what can they make of their life? And furthermore - why are they to pay for mistakes they didn't necessarily partake in, but happened many years ago?

We cannot correct the problems of the present by attempting to re-set time through land reform policies, there is simply no point to it. The reality of today's problems must be considered within today's context - in order to ensure the best solutions for the future.


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