Monday, May 15, 2017

Apartheid Still Casts Shadow Over South Africa Agriculture
CINDY SNYDER For the Times-News

SOUTH AFRICA — Talk to any farmer around the world and their connection to the land will quickly become the focus of the conversation.

But in South Africa, that connection to the land is often complicated by ownership questions dating back to the initial legislation that began apartheid. The Natives Land Act of 1913 was the first piece of major segregation legislation enacted. Essentially, the act prohibited white people from buying more native land, but forbid blacks from purchasing land from whites. The act also prohibited black people from share-cropping or tenant farming on white-owned farms.

Although the law was repealed in 1991, most of the land in South Africa remains in the hands of white people. President Jacob Zuma has proposed a plan to expropriate land without compensation to speed up land transfers. That’s a radical departure from the willing seller-willing buyer approach that has been used. Government subsidies initially helped black farmers purchase land.

It has also left many farmers questioning how much investment to make in their farms.

Johannes Loubser, whose family has operated dairies near Cape Town for five generations, only partially joked that if a group of visiting journalists returned in 20 years they may find a black family owning the property.

Omri Van Zyl, head of the Agri SA cooperative, said land reform must be economically sound or “…we will have a South Africa that is food insecure within fifteen to twenty years.”

He believes it is critical to empower more blacks to get into production agriculture and agricultural processing, but financing and lack of infrastructure are major obstacles.

The policy uncertainty regarding land reform specifically in terms of property rights must be addressed, Van Zyl said. Banks and foreign investors are wary of backing projects until land issues are resolved. About a third of the country’s farmers have disappeared since apartheid ended.

South Africa has a population of 51 million living on roughly 300 million acres. In comparison, Idaho has 53.4 million acres. Roughly 40,000 commercial farmers contribute 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Food is also grown by 170,000 to 180,000 small scale farmers.

Another 3 million households are involved in agriculture on a subsistence level. Helping to make those subsistence and small scale farmers more productive involves knowledge transfer and capital. And land.

One cooperative in South Africa works closely with black farmers over the course of four years to help them learn financial management and also pool resources to access tractors and other equipment to boost yields. About 3,500 farmers have participated in the program, boosting grain yields from 1 ton per hectare to 8 to 10 tons per hectare. One hectare is equal to 2.47 acres.

Vito Rugani, one of South Africa’s largest carrot producers, is trying a different approach to helping his farm workers gain wealth. He gives his 230 workers shares in the farm. With the dividends earned, the workers bought themselves a farm to subdivide so they can build homes on their own land.

“It’s unheard of to do this kind of thing,” Rugani said. “It’s anathema to say these people can have their own house and land.”

Finding housing for his workers has been difficult over the years. Some live in squatters areas near town, others live in government-provided communal housing and a few are tenants on the farm. But as he has invested in improving the skills of his labor force, he wanted his employees to have stable housing.

“The new government doesn’t want private ownership,” Rugani said. “The old government didn’t want black influx to agricultural land in white areas. It’s an ideological conflict and the poor person gets left out.”

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