The headline reads “End of the giant farms”. The subtitle should be: food prices hurt poor the most.
I spend quite a bit of time in rural communities and know very well the struggles and strife faced by poor rural people. Land shortage is a real issue in some places, but I find what is the largest problem is lack of skills to farm.
Land reform in this country is terrible and is not benefiting those it purports to benefit. Handing a community land is not a solution to rural poverty. I was in a per-rural area outside Pietermaritzburg and had a discussion about land reform and a farming project that was trying to get off the ground.
The community spoke with eagerness for the land that was to be awarded to them next year. The farm had been claimed and has been lying vacant for the past few years. The seller had willingly sold the land through the land reform process and had left the area, possibly the country. So this productive land sat unused and was not contributing to the economy anymore.
This farm was pointed out to me during a discussion about locating funding for a small-scale development project that was trying to be launched by an IFP councillor. He was interested in knowing how to get funding for fencing, seeds/seedlings and a tractor to till the land. This project was to occur on land already owned by the community and the field selected had been lying fallow for many years.
I couldn’t help but think, why more land? What this community had was already unused? Would it not be better to support these small local projects and use the land already in their possession? More land would not help these people.
I visited another community that was peri-urban and much more built up. I visited a project there where a group of older women had been given a small piece of land by the traditional leader and they were clearing the land, planting and fencing on their own with no support beyond the land. The IFP councillor had arranged for seedlings to be given to them and was trying to get some avocado trees for them. Throughout this community small gardens could be seen at most homes and the traditional leader was trying to support these as best he could with the help of the IFP.
The difference between these places was extraordinary. One place had land shortage, but was producing; one had land, but was not. A little local leadership and a tiny bit of support made all the difference.
It seems to me that the crude politicking around land is damaging to this country, the people and the economy. Land reform is needed on some level, but if there is no support for the training of farmers, then the land will remain fallow or merely support subsistence agriculture.
The poorest cannot afford the current land reform process. Land reform is killing farms and the nation’s productivity and, with cruel irony, raises the price of food for the poorest that are supposed to be the beneficiaries.
An election is looming so we can probably expect more rhetoric and more claims about redressing the past; and of course the poor will get poorer as food prices rise and more farms become unproductive.