Skip to content

Rescuing emerging farmers in South Africa?

28 March 2012

by Davison Chikazunga

Emerging farmers are often excluded from the mainstream agricultural economy. This situation can be reversed however, if we improve our understanding of who these emerging farmers are and what problems they are facing. Emerging farmers are inherently small – small land sizes and diverse production modes – making survival difficult in the modern agriculture economy. The New Growth Path policy blue print points to agriculture as being a key sector for creating jobs and growing the economy, yet despite evidence of crafting by excellent wordsmith, the document policy says very little on practical issues impeding emerging farmers from participating in markets.

The South African agriculture economy has little or no room for emerging farmers; with no strong support system, being an emerging farmer in South Africa can be a hopeless adventure. Introducing market liberalisation in 1992 has aggravated the difficulties; it was naïve for the country to introduce such measures at the dawn of democracy when the state presence needed to do much to establish new black farmers. South Africa’s agriculture economy under apartheid blossomed because of state subsidies, and similar support programs in America and Europe helped their agricultural economies to thrive.

While much has been done since 1994 to empower emerging farmers, much more is needed – especially on  aspects like finance, skills, organisation and markets. Agriculture finance is a highly complicated courting experience: commercial banks are a no-go-area for emerging farmers as they demand several requirements that are difficult for the average rural folk to grasp; government financial support is also dismal, as the Landbank is more likely to support an established farmer than an emerging farmer. Other support structures such as MAFISA and CASP funds have no footprint, so it is difficult to asses their effectiveness in helping emerging farmers. Therefore the Landbank must be re-mandated to occupy its original position as the one stop shop for all financial matters in support of emerging farmers.

Skills development is a major set-back with respect to empowering emerging farmers due to poor quality public extension services. Current farmer training programs miss the mark; by trying and failing to give training in the classroom, rather than in the field. While the mentorship programs have good intentions and has the capacity to develop agriculture skills, it is mostly limited to teaching production skills, whereas emerging farmers mostly need management skills such as on finance, management and marketing.  Emerging farmers in South Africa also rely on a weak public extension sector, whereas commercial farmers secure access to quality private extension services provided by agribusinesses. A balanced mix of extension and mentorship must be struck to capacitate emerging farmers to operate viable agriculture businesses.

Emerging farmers also need to organise and need support to do so; currently this group is highly disorganised and misrepresented. They can learn a lesson or two from commercial farmers, since commercial farmers’ successs can be partly explained by how highly organised and well represented they are. There is a general misconception that cooperatives provide the best way for organising emerging farmers, hence agricultural cooperatives have mushroomed throughout the country, even while such cooperatives have not fared very well, and many have collapsed for a variety of reasons, including in-fighting, free-riding, power dynamics, etcs. Other forms of organisation such as farmer unions and commodity associations have not been useful either. The case of NAFU and its splinter groups paints a grim picture on how emerging farmers in this country are mis-represented. Significant investment is needed to establish strong institutions who can fight for the cause of emerging farmers; organisations that specialise in organisation development can play a crucial role in this regard.

Last but not least, market acceess, is a huge hurdle facing emerging farmers who are excluded from markets because:

  • production is low and inconsistent;
  • they have limited access to market infrastructure (e.g packhouses, abattoirs, silos, etc) which are important to emerging farmers to final markets, but such facilities and infrastructure are often dismissed as a non-issue as the perception is that emerging farmers should use the same structures as commercial farmers even though these are monopolised by big business;
  • most agriculture markets are impermeable to small producers, for example processors and retail chains have stringent procurement policies such as international quality standards (GlobalGAP), labelling, exclusive contractual arrangements, etc.

While government has introduced an AgriBEE policy to unlock the agriculture value chain for emerging farmers, the policy barks at the wrong tree as it provides no robust preferential procurement code which must be the pillar for integrating emerging farmers in agricultural markets. The policy could be useful it set quotas on how much should agribusiness should procure from emerging farmers. Re-introducing state market agents to target emerging farmers can provide a good starting point to address barriers to market entry.

Developing emerging farmers in South Africa is not straightforward, however doing nothing is not an option. Empowering emerging farmers in this country is very possible with the right recipe of relevant public policies and a pro-poor proactive private sector. However, even though they are entitled to a place in the agricultural economy, emerging farmers also cannot just sit back and wait for the right mix of policies and alignment of government and business practices. Emerging farmers should also rise to the occasion and write their own history knowing very well that in the agricultural industry you either swim or sink.

Can the National Reference Groups on land reform turn the tide of poor delivery?

21 February 2012

Shortly after the release of the Green Paper on Land Reform in September 2011 the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) Mr Gugile Nkwinti established the National Reference Group (NAREG) as a forum to contribute to policy development. In line with proposals in the Green Paper, six working group task teams were established on: Land Management Commission, Land Rights Management Board — which overlaps with provisions in the unresolved Land Tenure Security Bill of 2010, Office of the Valuer-General, Three-Tier Tenure System, Communal Tenure and Legislative Amendments.

Dialogue muddled by lack of clarity

These themed working groups, coordinated by Mr Sunday Ogunronbi, are part of a stake-holder consultation process and are meant to discuss proposals on policy, strategy and legislation including tenure security policy and legislation. In November 2011, the Working Group on the Land Rights Management Board chaired by Acting Deputy Director General, Mr Vela Mngwengwe, met with a small group of land reform beneficiaries and organised agriculture. The meeting conceded that a broader civil society outfit should be included in discussions. A second meeting, held on 19 January 2012, included a range of stakeholder participants: land reform beneficiary structures (provincial representatives), organised agriculture (Agri-SA, NAFU, TAU, Agri-business Chamber), NGOs and DRDLR officials (no one from the DRDLR policy unit was present at the meeting).

The meeting started in a vacuum, with a visible sense of visible uncertainty about what to expect, aggravated by unavailability of minutes from the first meeting and terms of reference to guide deliberations of the restructured group regarding the process it should undertake, the outcomes it should achieve and the timeframe in which the dialogue should be concluded. The meeting agenda was only made available half-an-hour after the meeting was due to start.

While the process of consolidating Green Paper submissions would only be completed by the end of February, it was unclear:

  • how input from stakeholders would be taken further in the policy process;
  • if stakeholder participants were meant to present their submissions on establishing the Green Paper’s proposed new institutions; or
  • in what way a separate process of scrutinising, collating and consolidating existing submissions would inform the working group’s discussions.

Too few details about the Land Rights Management Board for constructive discussion

According to the DRDLR the main aim of this working group is to further develop the proposed Land Rights Management Board (a body of professional expertise and skills appointed by the Minister) together with local management committees (representatives of farm-workers and dwellers, commercial farmers, relevant municipal councils, government departments). The Green Paper proposes that, with powers conferred by the Minister, the Land Rights Management Board will now replace the department’s governing role in managing leasehold tenure on state and public land. It seems that the Green Paper intends the Land Rights Management Board and the Land Management Commission would take on the task of addressing tenure security — and yet, there is also a Draft Land Tenure Security Bill (made public in December 2010) about which the Green Paper is silent.

Stakeholder participants at the meeting could not comment in any detail on the Land Rights Management Board as the Green Paper does not spell out the functions and range of powers such a board will have. The meeting co-ordinators were also unclear as to whether the Land Rights Management Board was already a fait accompli, or whether stakeholder submissions, questioning the existence of such a board, would be taken into account. In the absence of clarity about how these issues will be dealt with, speculation runs rife about the Draft Land Tenure Security Bill having been quietly dropped because it is too politically charged.

In this regard, Chair Vela Mngwengwe pointed out:

The honest truth is no work is being done to take the Land Tenure Security Bill forward. There is a clear intention to take the process forward in the Green Paper. So what ends up in the Green paper will inform the Bill.

This suggests that the current Draft Land Tenure Security Bill has been set aside or derailed from its journey through parliament until the policy on land reform has been concluded.

Irrespective of where this process is now or what form the process will take — Minister Nkwinti will present amendments to the Green Paper to Cabinet as soon as May 2012. Whether or not discussions from the working group will feed into this ministerial draft to be presented in May — neither the meeting organisers, nor the participants can answer!

How can the Department and NAREG rescue the land reform programme?

It is gravely concerning that the Department continues the practice of non-debated policy shifts, repeatedly fails to present coherent positions in public and parliament, and fails to use its opportunities to thoroughly assess and debate all aspects of land reform or solicit fresh perspectives in an inclusive platform that will allow efficient policy dialogues.

We have 17 years of very little land reform behind us. A well-designed public engagement to help design and deliver effective land policy is desperately needed to turn the tide on land reform. If this policy process is to go forward in a constructive way the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development must clarify and aim to reach common agreement between all stakeholders on:

  • Are the working groups are ad-hoc structures?
  • What are the terms of reference?
  • Who should be part of the working group?
  • What is the purpose of the meetings?
  • What do we discuss in the absence of the public recommendations on the Green Paper?
  • What outcomes do we expect?
  • What are the timeframes for expected outcomes?

While there was no distinct commitment from the working group chair that clarity would be provided, he did agree to provide terms of reference before the next (as yet unscheduled) working group meeting.  Once these matters are clarified, we look forward to actively engaging in the public participation process.

As civil society we cannot afford to take a ‘watch and see’ approach. How will it take land reform forward if both sides are undecided and unresponsive? What new approaches should be explored to influence and shape policy in the absence of clarity about process and policy? Should civil society take the lead in developing and maintaining meaningful engagements? Can or should civil society take on the role of building real networks to develop on-going strategic engagement in national land reform policies in a way that reflects and highlights their key stake in policy development?

The current policy quagmire is very frustrating; a clear agenda and process, is absolutely essential to gaining renewed energy and forward momentum on land reform. Without clarity, Minister Nkwinti’s revised Green Paper to be presented to Cabinet in May will be another lost opportunity. The NAREG process cannot take land reform along a new path without guidance and unless these issues are rapidly resolved, the Department may well be on its way to yet another year of minimal delivery on the land reform programme.

Let’s hope the government does indeed act on Minister Nkwinti’s statement in Business Report this weekend that ‘urgent measures [will] be put in place to assist these work streams‘.

Mozambique land grabs expose hypocrisy of large scale land transfers to private investors

30 November 2011

Dr Gaynor Paradza, PLAAS Senior Researcher

PLAAS Senior Researcher Dr Gaynor Paradza was recently in Mozambique to research land grabbing at Maragra sugar cane plantation run by Illovo.

At the sugar cane farm visited, women are badly hit by having lost access to the land now transferred to Illovo. Food procurement was difficult before the investment, but now things are even more difficult. The women from Maragra’s message to Illovo highlights  the limit of current investor models”

The workers do not eat sugarcane, they need food to enable them to work on the sugar cane fields.

At the estate, community members shared how, as a result of Illovo’s investments in sugar cane, they had not only lost their lands, but their livelihoods and subsistence food production were severely undermined because of Illovo’s practises to ‘persuade’ peasants to turn their  land into sugar-cane production.

The community alleged that the  company dammed and denied irrigation water to community members who refused to participate in sugar cane production, poisoned the soil and peasants food crops by aerial spraying of pesticides, and closed access roads. Non -governmental organisations interviewed, including the powerful National Union of Peasant Farmers (UNAC) have had several meetings to try and resolve the issue with no results.

Despite this, civil society in Mozambique has been actively engaging among themselves, with the state, and with investors to improve large scale land transfer governance. The initiatives underway range from:

  • a  land forum  that brings together the various  stakeholders to discuss land governance issues;
  • community land delimitation initiatives by the Rural Mutual Support Organisation (ORAM);
  • more extreme actions where communities have uprooted  investors’ eucalyptus plantations and successfully renegotiated the return of their subsistence production land from an investor.

The visit is part of the Rosa Luxemburg-funded PLAAS research into  the governance of large scale commercial transactions on land and the role of non governmental organisations . The research focuses on three sites in Manica and Sofala Provinces in Mozambique.

Many training initiatives to improve smallholder access to value chains, but scaling up and restructuring market still a challenge

28 November 2011

by Dr Gaynor Paradza, PLAAS Senior Researcher

PLAAS is involved in a research project aimed at promoting Pro-Poor Value Chain Governance in Fisheries and Agriculture in Southern Africa. The project, funded by the Ford foundation, ICCO and SANPAD, focuses on artisanal fisheries and fresh produce in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. PLAAS held a two day workshop on Pro-Poor Value Chain Governance in Johannesburg on 8–9 November 2011. The workshop which brought together participants from the academic, public, private and civil society sectors focused on the current approaches and initiatives to improve smallholder farmers’ participation in and benefit from fresh produce value chains. Participants engaged in robust and honest reflections on the effectiveness of the current approaches and strategies aimed at improving food security and livelihoods of the poor farmers in South Africa.

Mr Davana , a Limpopo farmer appraised various state and private sector initiatives to strengthen smallholder farmers’ participation in value chains. The farmer illustrated how smallholder farmers were innovating through mobilising support, engaging the market and facilitating knowledge transfer from former commercial farmers to the youth to ensure the sustainability of the smallholder farming sector.

The private sector shared innovations and strategies they had devised to overcome challenges, making modest yet influential gains in integrating smallholder farmers into agricultural value chains.  The private sector-led initiatives noted the challenges of balancing profit-led motives for engaging smallholder farmers with sometimes politically-motivated state-led initiatives. The private sector led initiatives faced challenges of scale and impact as the sector lacks the resources and motivation to engage in broader initiatives in which goals extend beyond profit. Dr Jack Armour shared the experiences and initiatives that the organised agricultural sector has been playing to contribute to the efforts underway to facilitate knowledge transfers and links between commercial farmers and smallholder farmers.

Dr Michael Aliber highlighted overlaps between smallholder farmers and low-end commercial farmers and pointed to possible alliances between the two sectors. Government initiatives were acknowledged as the most inclusive, but not necessarily the most effective at integrating smallholder farmers into value chains. Government did not seem to be taking on board lessons from research, history and its own initiatives to inform the new policies aimed at restructuring market governance.

Stephen Greenberg and Gaynor Paradza’s focus on the Walmart debate provided an opportunity for participants go beyond the media debate to examine wider questions about business practises of existing food retailers in South Africa and the progressive initiatives (for smallholder farmers) they have had to undertake to mediate the ‘Walmart effect’ on the fresh produce value chains and retail sector.

Although they presented diverse approaches to the problem, participants agreed that smallholder farmer typologies were necessary to improve our understanding of and facilitate formulation of more effective policies.

Participants agreed that urgent restructuring of market governance is needed to enhance smallholder participation in agricultural value chains.

Individual Transfer Quotas unlikely to ever work for small-scale fishers in South Africa

8 November 2011

by Dr Moenieba Isaacs with Rebecca Pointer

Horst Kleinschmidt recently discussed ‘Balancing inequalities among fishers’ in a Cape Times article (Cape Times, Monday 17 Oct 2011). While we agree on a number of his views on artisanal and small-scale fishers, many of them are problematic and unworkable. For example, the contestation those small-scale fishing rights should be reserved for coloured males as they have an historical claim to the practice – race and identity politics are at the heart of this debate and fuelled in Western Cape party politics. The customary claim for coloured men should not be used simply to continue oppressive gender and racial categories; we need to be cautious and suspicious.

Although most fishers in the Western Cape Province are coloured their history and culture of fishing is rather mixed – historical evidence suggest that fishers along the coast of South Africa were strandlopers, slaves allowed to fish in their free time, and farmworkers drawn to the coast as fish workers in processing plants and allowed to fish in the free time as recreational fishers. Therefore, tradition is shaky foundation on which to build a fishing rights policy; most people simply cannot trace their roots back very far. If they did they would more likely trace it back to Europe or Asia; establishing first nation Khoi and San strandloper bona fides would be extremely difficult and problematic. We should move away from romanticising tradition, custom and categorising fishers as subsistence – fishing communities are cash dependent and need to sell and market their fishing rights, actively participating in the value chain of their harvested resources.

Instead, of romantic notions, we should look at who is actually currently actively fishing or actively involved in fishing communities. For example, women have been allocated rights and some are actively fishing Since women are the poorest and most oppressed in fishing communities, women should be given rights if they actively fishing and if not, they should form part of the processing and marketing of the resource.

Horst Kleinschmidt points to the problem of ‘paper quote holders’ – and indeed these are problematic, but this practice is a direct outcome of the way the Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system allocated rights to previously disadvantaged people and expected them to compete with big companies: it was in the best interests of companies to pay new rights holders off to not be involved in fishing so the big companies could secure their quotas. At the same time, rights holders with little or no experience in commercial fishing are likely to find being ‘paid off’ the surest way to secure a steady income.  The draft small-scale policy should take care of when and how established companies may be involved in the processing and marketing of small scale fisheries resources – if not, most small-scale rights-holders would sell their fishing rights to established companies.

While the collective rights allocation in the small-scale fishing policy does indeed have potential, it very much depends how this is set up: it is not a fait accompli better option. The experiment with community trust model in 1993 was problematic, as it simply becomes an entity that sets up agreements with and receives money from established companies to catch, process and market their quotas, and some of that money is then paid to members. However, the members typically have little say in how the trust allocates money and little input into how the trust might develop opportunities for members. So community trusts often become just another form of community elite capturing the benefits. For example, the South African Commercial Fishermen Cooperative were allocated the largest new entrant quota in 1997 — representing 25 fishing communities and 3000 fishers. They then corporatised, concentrated and downscaled their operations; members were not actively involved in harvesting, processing and marketing their allocation and instead joint venture agreements were made with established companies. Management captured all the benefits and fishers were left with no employment or income. I would argue that the Marine Living Resources Act 18 of 1998 favoured industry domination in using ITQs and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) to allocate rights, while expanding the number of quota holders, and broadening access.

In practice, these two mechanisms were incompatible: ITQs limit the number of quota holders, while BEE is designed expand the number of rights holders. The reform has been focussed on narrowly-based BEE rather than meaningful social transformation, and expansion and stabilisation of the industry has marginalised bona fide fishers whose livelihoods depend on marine resources. Community Trusts and SACFC forms part of the ITQ model.

The current system suggested by the small-scale policy has a strong developmental approach with a clear mandate to alleviate poverty and reduce vulnerabilities of fishers in fishing communities. It offers a hybrid approach that will allocate rights collectively to a community entity and promote value chain processing and marketing through the community entity. Hence, all the benefits of the market should be used within communities. Government, through the implementation of the small-scale policy intends to support infrastructure (boats, gear, ice, transport, etc.), credit schemes, extension services and training and support to community entities.

For this form of collective privatisation to work well for members, members need:

  • a voice in allocating fishing rights
  • a management and implementation plan that suits local community conditions
  • to participate in the processing and marketing
  • infrastructure support
  • loans agreed among members
  • training and skills development specifically oriented to collective business practices and procedures (including accounting processes and procedures).

Currently, there is a mismatch with government-funded skills-training on business practice and procedures oriented towards developing individual entrepreneurs, even while government policy promotes collectives and cooperatives in the small-scale policy.  One of the biggest challenge for the small-scale policy is to incorporate into one representative organisation all existing rights holders in West Coast rock lobster, line fishers (commercial and traditional), beach seines (net trekkers), and interim relief permit holders who all fish in the inshore zone.

Without the appropriate structures, support, infrastructure and training, the existing policy simply continues as paper quota holders, a fishing company town model, which concentrates resources, downscales operations, fails to create employment and reduce inequalities, and thus also fails to alleviate poverty.

Could collective privatisation be an option for the rights allocation for the new small-scale fisheries policy? In post-apartheid reform, the subsistence and small-scale economies are not protected from the dominance of vertically integrated, established fishing industries in harvesting, processing and marketing quotas allocated to small-scale holders in inshore species (WCRL, abalone, and commercial linefish permits, hake handline, small pelagics [sardine and anchovy], and squid). It took twenty years for subsistence fishers to become recognised as small-scale fishers and a policy has been drafted, yet the ITQ system of allocation remains and will have impacts on the nature and the structure for community entities.

The Politics of Not Making Policy: The new Land Reform Green Paper

21 October 2011
Response to the Green Paper on Land Reform, released in Parliament on 31 August 2011 and published in the Government Gazette on 16 September 2011

 by Senior Researcher Dr Ruth Hall, September 2011

The new Green Paper on Land Reform offers little policy direction for the important but controversial work of land reform. It was the culmination of a long, hotly debated policy process which started with government’s acknowledgement at the National Land Summit in 2005 that land reform was not on track, and a commitment to review its ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ policy.

This about-turn was given added impetus at the ANC’s National Conference at Polokwane in 2007, where its resolutions provided a clear and progressive mandate for a pro-poor land reform, to expand the ‘role and productivity of modern small-holder farming’ while ‘maintaining a vibrant and competitive agricultural sector’. After the 2009 elections, Zuma’s government declared that reinvigorating rural development and land reform would be one of its top five priorities, and promised to unveil a new policy to replace the 1997 White Paper on South African Land Policy. That was two and a half years ago.

This wait has proved to be in vain. Those concerned about the future of rural South Africa have been dumbfounded at the vacuous Green Paper unveiled by Minister Gugile Nkwinti. Consisting of a mere eleven pages of rhetoric and vague proposals, it fudges all the most pressing questions facing the programme and falls far short of being the new policy framework that has been promised over the past six years.

The Emperor’s new clothes

The Green Paper describes a range of tenure types (most of which exist already) and proposes the establishment of three new institutions. Its proposals are:

  • A four-tier system of land tenure, comprising state land (to be leased out), privately owned freehold (with ‘limited extent’), land owned by foreigners (with ‘precarious tenure’) and communally owned land (under ‘communal tenure’);
  • A Land Management Commission to advise, provide guidelines, coordinate, regulate, audit and act as a reference point for the Ministry;
  • A Land Valuer-General to provide fair and consistent land values for rating and tax purposes, and determine compensation where land is expropriated;
  • A Land Rights Management Board to communicate with farm owners, farm dwellers and others, to develop systems to record and register land rights, and to provide legal representation where necessary.

What ‘limited extent’ and ‘precarious tenure’ mean is not defined. Nor is there any discussion about what changes will be made to the ‘communal tenure’ system on which most of the rural poor depend. Astoundingly, the paper offers no direction on the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ approach, and offers no clarity on when and how the state will expropriate.

Earlier proposals for land market regulation have been abandoned – or at least they are not mentioned. A draft of the Green Paper leaked in September last year proposed a right of first refusal for the state on all land transactions; land taxes to incentivise large landowners to dispose of under-utilised land and punish those hoarding land for speculative purposes; and ceilings on the sizes of landholdings to limit agglomeration of land ownership in few hands.

Deciding on how land is to be acquired (whether through the market or via expropriation), and any land market regulation – functions that are core to the Ministry’s land reform mandate – are now to be the responsibility of a Land Management Commission. No direction is given as to how the LMC should use these wide-ranging powers. Rather, it seems that the Ministry is merely deferring these key policy decisions and outsourcing the normal policy making and implementation functions of its own department to this new body. How will this solve existing problems? Why create new institutions to carry out departmental functions? Why would the Department not make its own policy, and manage its own affairs?

In practical terms, transferring responsibility to the new body achieves nothing. But  politically it removes the policy process from public purview and lodges responsibility for making policy with a body which will be ‘autonomous’ but ‘not independent’ and responsible to the Minister and the Department. This makes sense only if the purpose is to centralise power and to obscure the locus and status of policy making.

Explaining policy paralysis

Why is there so little content to this Green Paper? One can only speculate. Three possible reasons come to mind. First, government has succumbed to deep ideological divisions on this issue within the ruling alliance, which prevent any agreement on the way forward. Indeed, last year the ANC’s national executive committee rejected earlier policy proposals, and the Ministry was sent back to the drawing board. Second, perhaps they really don’t know what to do – also a scary possibility. Third, it could be that government decided that the proposals being mooted were too controversial so it seemed easiest to put out a non-descript Green Paper just because it was promised – and then go on to implement land reform in any way it wishes, without a policy framework to guide it.

By obscuring the future direction of land reform, government has simply failed to make policy. Yet, if this policy-less Green Paper were to be formally adopted as a White Paper it will have real political effects. It will allow land reform to continue along its present path – of slow progress, unsustainable outcomes and elite capture. Not making policy is a political act.

The real effects of a policy vacuum

The failure to make policy is not a neutral position. It serves very real agendas. The past five years illustrate this very well. On the one hand, there has been a political message that delivery must be speeded up, but the implementation drive has occurred without any framing policy about how the pie is to be divided. In this context, the path of least resistance, taken by local-level implementers, becomes de facto policy. These implementers focus on serving what they understand to be their political heads’ wishes, and do what they can to please. For the most part this has meant chasing the numbers: pushing up the figures for hectares transferred, and ‘picking winners’ by favouring certain types of applicants, with scant regard to whether this serves the interests of inclusive growth or poverty reduction.

Since 2006, through the proactive land acquisition strategy (PLAS), government has taken to buying farms and leasing them out. In the process, it has spent just over R3.7 billion buying farms, but much of the land has not been allocated to anyone. Only 397 households were listed as beneficiaries by the middle of last year. This means that vast areas are standing unused, or that a handful of people are getting great windfalls from the national fiscus. No policy either endorses or prohibits such practices. Without any policy to determine who should be prioritised, or how public money should be rationed, it is not even clear whether these practices formally constitute abuse – though they are certainly at odds with the existing White Paper, and contradict the resolution adopted at Polokwane.

My point then is not that the Green Paper is barking up the wrong tree. The problem is, it is barking up none. It is just barking. Official policy – the White Paper from 1997 – has long been overtaken by politics and practice. In the meantime, real decisions are being made every day about how public money will be spent, to buy what land, for whom, for what purpose. None of this is informed by official policy, and most of it occurs outside public scrutiny. If the current Green Paper is confirmed in its current form, such rudderless practices will continue.

Let’s dialogue anyway

The Minister has failed to provide the leadership South Africa needs. It is up to ordinary South African citizens to take up this challenge. A constructive national dialogue about a better future for the rural areas, and the role of land reform in bringing this about, should address at least these questions:

  • Who should benefit from land reform? Is this a programme for the poor, with the aim of rural poverty alleviation (as was the case under the Reconstruction and Development Programme) or is its purpose to attract black investors into agriculture to create a black commercial farming class (as was the case under Mbeki)? What is its class agenda and how broadly or narrowly should public funds be shared?
  • What changes should land reform bring about in land uses and farm sizes? And what should it leave intact? Is subdivision of farms going to be pursued to make available modest plots in order to promote a smallholder sector, is the expectation that groups of people should collectively own and manage farms, or is this about transferring whole commercial farms from one individual owner to another? Each of these options has profound implications. Which is it to be?
  • Where should land reform be targeted? What land should be prioritised for redistribution, and who should determine this? How can priorities be set in participatory ways, by the public in tandem with different spheres of government (especially municipalities) that need to play a role supporting land reform? What are the spatial considerations and where are the priority zones? Are these the high-rainfall areas close to high population densities? Or areas adjacent to the ex-Bantustans where many small farmers lack adequate land and infrastructure?
  • How will land be acquired for redistribution? Confiscation (as proposed by the ANC Youth League at its congress earlier this year) is not on the cards, but between confiscation and a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ approach lies a broad spectrum of possible approaches. Is ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ still to be the major way in which land is acquired, even if the ‘willing buyer’ is now the state? Will expropriation become a more prominent means of acquiring land for redistribution – or not? Will the state aim to drive down compensation for expropriated properties below market prices, as allowed in the Constitution – or not? When and under what conditions will government opt to expropriate?
  • How can projects be better designed, to improve on the dismal performance of the programme to date? What agricultural and other support services can be introduced to ensure that redistributed land is well used and improves the livelihoods of beneficiaries as well as surrounding communities? The same Minister who has repeatedly (and morosely) claimed that 90% of his department’s projects are failing (but never published the data on which this estimate is based), has now unveiled a policy that makes no proposal to improve on this less-than-mediocre track record. What will prevent this pattern being perpetuated?
  • How can tenure rights be secured? By focusing on the first three tiers of the ‘four-tier tenure system’, the policy addresses the rights of those who either own or rent property – a small proportion of our population. Farm workers and dwellers, and residents of the ex-Bantustan areas continue to have insecure rights in practice. What is to be done to secure their tenure? What about tenure rights on redistributed land – what rights will beneficiaries have vis-a-vis the state? Is the idea for the state to become the owner of all redistributed land, so that beneficiaries become tenants of the state (as has been the practice since 2006) or for them to get private title to the land allocated to them (as was originally set out in policy)? Or a mix? Which, and why?

None of these is clarified in the Green Paper. But that should not stop us from asking, and answering, the hard questions.

Getting Customary Land Rights Wrong: The DA’s Private Member’s Bill

7 October 2011

This statement is authored by Ruth Hall and Andries du Toit, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

The DA’s notice in respect of the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill on Communal Land Rights is right about one thing: poor people’s tenure rights in the former Bantustans have been languishing in a policy vacuum for too long. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has failed to provide any leadership on this matter. This vacuum has been particularly serious since the Constitutional Court struck down key provisions of the Communal Land Rights Act in May last year.  A debate on the future of the former Bantustans is sorely needed.

Unfortunately, the DA is wrong about almost everything else. The proposals they put forth are misguided, outmoded, and based on a mistaken analysis of the problem. They are likely to make matters worse, not better. In addition, they are entirely unrealistic and probably almost impossible to implement.

Communal rights and Freehold Tenure

The DA’s proposal is that communal tenure should be replaced by freehold tenure.  According to their spokesperson, Lindiwe Mazibuko, the DA believes that  giving people unencumbered title to their land is essential to secure their tenure and to ensure increased productivity, rural job creation,  and food security.

This is based on ignorance of how tenure works in areas governed by customary practices. It also ignores the lessons of history. Ambitious titling programs such as the one proposed by the DA have been tried in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and they have failed to achieve their aims.  They have proved to be expensive to implement; they have not resulted in the hoped-for boosting commercial agriculture; and they have in many cases exacerbated poverty and inequality.

  1. The first thing the DA gets wrong is that it does not understand the value and importance of communal tenure. The history of land tenure systems in Africa and elsewhere indicates that communal and customary tenure can play a positive role in reducing poverty and vulnerability. Access to communal lands is an important safety net, and allows many people to survive who otherwise would be forced to migrate to the cities, there to become part of the urban unemployed.  Rather than to try to demolish customary tenure systems, government should try to strengthen them and make them more transparent and democratic.
  2. Secondly, communal tenure is not necessarily insecure tenure. Properly managed, they can be instruments for the flexible allocation of land rights and access to those in need.  All over the developing world, productive smallholder and subsistence farming takes place on land that is not under freehold title.
  3. Thirdly, the DA misunderstands the reasons for poverty in the rural areas.  The unresolved nature of tenure systems is not a major obstacle in the way to rural development, growth and employment. The reasons lie elsewhere.  The most important obstacles are the lack of appropriate agricultural policies, the lack of properly designed and implemented extension and support for smallholder farming,   and the lack of infrastructure and investment.  None of those are dependent on freehold title.
  4. Fourthly, the DA’s proposals are likely to have more negative than positive consequences.  Freehold title on its own cannot create the conditions for rural commerce or enterprise.  The notion that freehold title will give poor people access to capital and finance that would not otherwise be available is an illusion. It has not worked in poor urban slums, and it will not work in poor rural areas.  Banks are unlikely to provide accept land in poor and overcrowded communal areas as collateral, no matter what the form of title is.  And many of the poorest and most vulnerable are likely to end up being excluded.
  5. Finally, the course of action they propose is impossible to implement.   The Communal Land Rights Act (11 of 2004) proposed registration of the land rights of ‘traditional communities’, which would have involved rights enquiries, defining physical boundaries, defining community membership and drawing up community rules – a complex process that was expected to take a matter of a few years per community. It was estimated that approximately 20,000 such ‘traditional communities’ exist within South Africa. Even with very substantial funds and institutional capacity, it would be expected the registering land to communities would take a matter of several decades.  What the DA proposes is even more ambitious. Registering the rights of individuals within communities, and transferring these in private ownership, would be an enormous undertaking. Who should get title, and who should not? Who will adjudicate disputes and how? International experiences of titling programmes being imposed in situations where customary practices govern land tenure suggest that they are usually undermined by (a) the problem of records being chronically out of date, (b) conflicts emerging because of competing and overlapping claims to land within and between communities, and (c) the privileging of men and elites, and subordination of secondary rights holders, usually women. In Kenya, for instance, the infamous Swynnerton Plan, a titling drive very similar to that being proposed by the DA,  implemented from the 1950s onwards, turned out to be highly costly. It not only failed to stimulate rural economic development, but has also been widely recognised as a long-term cause of land-based conflicts in that country.

It is disappointing that the DA is seeking to recycle once again failed development notions from more than fifty years ago.  The notion that one can modernize rural areas by imposing freehold tenure from above is outmoded and discredited.

Instead, two alternative routes should be explored. First, legislation should be developed to provide statutory recognition of existing occupancy as constituting a real property right, enforceable in law and equivalent to private ownership (even where these are informal rights that are not registered).

Second, the option should be made available to communities within these areas to register their land and to formalise their systems of land allocation and administration, with state support. Registration should not, though, be a precondition for legal recognition of rights. And registration should be available for a wide array of rights, not just for freehold tenure.

This two-fold approach is based on the Mozambican model, and is widely accepted as best practice on the continent.

Other aspects of land management

Two further provisions of the DA proposals do merit comment. Firstly, they propose that legislation must be drafted to ensure that all land in the former homelands is surveyed so that it is known exactly how much land exists and who is living on it. Currently, this land is categorised as “unsurveyed, unregistered state land” and “trust land” and is not properly registered in any database.  This is a good suggestion, but it does not require new legislation. It can be done under current law.

Secondly, the DA proposes that the rates collection system that applies in municipal areas should be applied in these areas as well, so that the entire country is covered by a simple and uniform rates collection system. In addition, these areas to be demarcated as municipalities and therefore subject to the provisions of the Municipal Systems Act. This is a strange proposal.  The communal areas of South Africa already fall within the provisions of the Municipal Systems Act and are part of demarcated municipalities which already cover the entire country. The proposal to bring these areas within this municipal system is simply redundant. The proposal that the poor and marginalized people who live on this land should be made to pay property rates is unrealistic, and implementing it is likely to lead to civil unrest.

Back to the drawing board

South Africa needs better tenure solutions.  But the property models that work in wealthy suburbs can’t be enshrined as the only valid approach.  The DA’s bill is poorly thought through, and should be rejected in its entirety.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers