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New portal keeps readers up-to-date with developments in Zimbabwe land reform

3 October 2011

Cotton growers in ZimbabweIn February 2011, PLAAS funded research was disseminated in the form of a controversial book Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities which showed that not everything about land reform in Zimbabwe was a disaster and indeed there were some positive indicators from land recipients. As the UK Institute of Development Studies says in its review of the site:

The agricultural sector is expected to grow by 19 per cent this year, on the back of a strong 9% growth in the economy as a whole – although of course from a very low base. For example, cotton production is booming, tobacco sales were expected to exceed 170m tonnes, and the output of maize, the staple food crop, has steadily grown despite recurrent droughts. And nearly all of this is from small and medium scale farms.

landhungerOverturning the settler colonial pattern of land use and creating a new agrarian structure has had far-reaching consequences; the website, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform, works to keep up-to-date information about the ongoing consequences and results of the process. This research continues to follow the fortunes of the 400 households in the original study sample, and the portal will be kept up-to-date as new findings are disseminated.

In addition the site delivers eight new videos and summarised findings from the research in two booklets (one in English and one in Shona), as well as media links, photos, articles and a blog.


Comment on the newly released Green Paper on Land Reform

26 September 2011

For more comment from PLAAS staff members, read: ‘Grey fog in a green paper‘ and ‘Green paper on land reform offers “no guidance”‘.

The document released as a Green Paper by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is a great disappointment. 

After more than two years of vacillation and evasion since President Zuma’s announcement of the need for a new policy framework, the Ministry has produced a document that provides almost no guidance on any of the crucial questions facing land and agrarian reform in South Africa.   It fails to offer any serious proposals for public debate on what the alternatives are to scale up land reform. It is bafflingly slight, weighing in at no more than eleven pages.  It is in fact surprising that the Ministry is willing to release such an insubstantial and vague document at all.

While the South African government has succeeded in rejuvenating and transforming important areas of our society since 1994, land and agrarian reform has been one of the areas where hopes for transformation have been dashed.  Very little land has been redistributed, many land reform projects have failed to help create sustainable livelihoods, rural employment has plummeted and evictions have rocketed. After fifteen years, our rural areas are, if anything, more polarized than before, and generate fewer livelihoods.

At Polokwane in 2007, the ANC declared that reinvigorating rural development and land reform was one of its most important priorities. South Africa has looked to the Department of Rural Development of Land Reform for leadership and guidance.
Above all, for land reform to succeed, the country needs the Minister to engage robustly with the public to find answers to the pressing policy issues facing the nation.

  • How can the racial legacy of forced removals be addressedwithout increasing racial polarisation?
  • 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 changes should land reform bring aboutin land uses and farm sizes? Is subdivision going to be pursued to promote a smallholder sector, or is this about transferring whole commercial farms from one owner to another?
  • What land should be prioritised for redistribution, and how can this be determined? What is the strategic orientation of the programme, and how can priorities be set in participatory ways, including the public and also different spheres of government that need to play a role supporting land reform?
  • How can projects be better designed, to improve on the dismal performance of the programme to date? How can agricultural policy support land reform? 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?
  • How can land reform support sustainable rural livelihoods?How can the present failures in small farmer support be rectified?  How can marginalised farmers be supported into access to competitive markets, and what kinds of markets do they need? How can agro-food systems and commodity chains be governed so that they ensure decent incomes in the countryside – and affordable food for the urban poor?
  • How can the tenure rights of farm workers and dwellers, and residents of the ex-Bantustan areas be secured? What is the strategy to ensure, not only strong tenure rights for farm workers in law, but also secure livelihoods in reality?   How can the complex, contested and fluid arrangements of living customary law in former Bantustans find institutional expression? What is the role of traditional authorities?  How can the rights of rural women be protected?

These are the questions land and agrarian reform policy has to answer. Existing policy has been found wanting.  Better answers are needed – and these answers need to be bold and visionary.
In this context, the release of the Green Paper is an event of crucial significance. It is a draft policy that is expected to be refined after a two month period for public comment. Thereafter it will become official policy as a White Paper, replacing the White Paper on South African Land Policy of 1997.

Some of the proposals advanced in the ‘Green Paper’ are useful. A Valuer General can bring certainty and clarity around valuations and expropriations processes.  The proposal that the state pays just and equitable compensation in cases of expropriation is appropriate and in line with Section 25 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

But for the most part, the Ministry has produced a document that fudges all the important questions. It fails to provide an honest analysis of the nature and shortcomings of land reform policy until now. No guidance is given as to how the state will acquire land for acquisition. No answer is given on the status of the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ model.  No clarity is given as to when, and under what condition, will the state use expropriation as a way to acquire land. The four tier tenure system proposed by the Green paper will not solve any of the tenure systems faced by poor and marginalised South Africans. No policy justification is given for singling out non-nationals for conditional and curtailed property rights. The paper provides no policy direction on how to solve the conflicts around the tenure rights of the two main rural constituencies: the 16 million people residing under communal tenure in the ex-Bantustans and the 3 million farm dwellers living on privately-owned commercial farms. No clarity is given on how women’s rights to land can be secured. The proposal for a Land Management Commission succeeds only in deferring key decisions and outsourcing the Department’s functions to a Commission: it is unclear how it will resolve any of the existing problems dogging land reform. And no useful guidance is provided as to how the implementation of land reform is to support sustainable livelihoods. The measures that are proposed – a recapitalisation programme, and partnerships with commercial farms – already exist, are implementable only in a few cases and will not resolve the systemic and deep-seated failures of the Government to  provide coherent support to smallholder farming.

The Government’s failure to provide any clear policy guidance on these pressing issues is a great disappointment. The Green Paper is the product of a drafting process taking two and a half years.  This has been a secretive process in which the South African public has been kept largely in the dark.  The Ministry and its Department have shown themselves to be unwilling to look critically at their own policies, unable to learn from their mistakes, and unwilling to consult with civil society, stakeholders and expert opinion.  Instead of providing a Green Paper based on an honest assessment of the past fifteen years of policy implementation, it has produced a damp squib.

The Ministry has shown that it is unable to provide the leadership South Africa needs to these urgent questions.  It should go back to the drawing board.  It should jettison the present Green Paper in its entirety, and seek to develop sensible and coherent answers to pressing policy questions in consultation with all the stakeholders and role players involved.

Can Africa develop a regional response to ‘resource grabbing’?

26 July 2011

Evidence that a new wave of massive land (and water and other raw material) grabs are taking place across Africa is now incontrovertible. Estimates range from 32 to 50 million hectares of African land being allocated in long-term leases to foreign private and public companies in the last two years. Despite institutions like the World Bank promoting capital injection by foreign investors into such deals, research by the Land Deal Politics Initiative, Future Agricultures Consortium and the International Institute for Environment and Development among others has revealed much cause for concern as the (often gendered) impacts include land loss and displacement of indigenous communities, food insecurity, unfulfilled promises of development by businesses, and production flows leaving countries with little financial contribution to local economies. Further, a recent study highlighted potentially costly environmental and food safety impacts as it says the ‘Global Land Grab Threatens Unchecked GMO Growth‘. Others have pointed to the potential of resource grabs to increase war and conflict in Africa. Therefore, many like Nigerian lawyer and policy analyst Paul I. Adujie argue:

Whether these […] entities are growing cheap food on the African continent […] or growing for Bio-Fuels, any such efforts and endeavours which displace, dislocate and disadvantage Africans should be condemned by all.

Alongside these controversial deals, European government are putting out a new message about  assistance to Africa — supporting ‘trade not aid‘ as a panacea for Africa’s problems, as the Guardian highlighted during UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent visit to South Africa. Large scale land and resource ‘investments’ are seen as pro-development in the ‘trade not aid’ model. While the current rush for land and water has historical precursors, The Guardian article also points to differences in the dynamics of the current resource grab:

…this is not a rerun of the 19th century Scramble for Africa where the Great European powers, led by Britain and Germany, fought for the minerals and resources of Sub-Saharan Africa. This time the Europeans are playing catch up with the dominant force in Africa – China.

Not only China but also other emerging economies, notably the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), are key actors in the new land grab. They are joined by the Gulf States, forced by the food price crisis of 2007/8 to consider offshore food production to meet the future needs of their populations. But possibly the most significant new trend is the entry of speculative capital. The global financial sector, unsettled after the financial crisis of 2008, has become a major player, with foreign pension funds, hedge funds and even US universities ‘grabbing’ land in Africa as part of their strategies to diversify their investment portfolios.

A further, less widely recognised dynamic is emerging, with African elites increasingly involved in snatching up resources, with such investment often openly encouraged in the name of regional integration (such as South African farmers being urged to invest in Congo). The changing dynamics have prompted some to ask what opportunitiesthe resource grabs might afford Africans and how best Africans could take advantage of the increased global interest in Africa’s natural resources. For example, last weekend, Zimbabwe’s Newsday asked Will Africa take advantage of China-America scramble for resources?

 This oft-repeated quest to find ‘win-win’ solutions in which investor and host countries reap benefits, though, has tended to focus on the national level, ignoring the rights and interests of local people whose land is being transacted, often without their consent and frequently without their knowledge. So while some may argue that both investors and Africa stand to benefit, ensuring transactions are equitable is far from simple.

At the meeting of the Pan African Parliament: (left) Hubert Ouedraogo, secretariat of the Land Policy Initiative, African Union /UN Economic Commission for Africa /African Development Bank; (centre) Hon. Henri Gbone, the Togo representative to the Pan African Parilament; and (right) Carin Smaller of the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Geneva

At the meeting of the Pan African Parliament: (left) Hubert Ouedraogo, secretariat of the Land Policy Initiative, African Union /UN Economic Commission for Africa /African Development Bank; (centre) Hon. Henri Gbone, the Togo representative to the Pan African Parilament; and (right) Carin Smaller of the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Geneva

Amidst these controversies, the Pan African Parliament (PAP) held a meeting of parliamentarians from across the continent last week to discuss an appropriate African response to resource grabs. The meeting noted the strategic potential of countries with natural resource wealth, but also the inequitable deals that have been approved by many governments, providing long-term leases of 50 to 99 years to companies at minimal or even no cost, and with few guarantees about development. Of priority concern was evidence that local communities are often displaced, undermining local food production and aggravating vulnerability to hunger and chronic poverty.

PAP worked on a draft declaration on ‘large scale land investments’ which proposed, among other steps, that an African Union establish an African Ministerial Council on Land-based Investments to chart a collective response from African states, but the declaration has not yet been finalised. Delegates at the PAP meeting further discussed a possible moratorium on any further large-scale land deals until guidelines for such investments could be prepared, but even the moratorium has not yet been agreed.

The PAP meeting was a welcome indication that African leaders recognise that  if such(foreign and domestic) ‘investments’ are to take place, stronger in-country land

Also at the Pan African Parliament workshop: Hon. (left) Sisa Njikelana, South African representative to the Pan African Parliament and deputy chair of the

Also at the Pan African Parliament workshop: Hon. (left) Sisa Njikelana, South African representative to the Pan African Parliament and deputy chair of the

governance and land rights policies are essential. Meaningful consultation with affected communities must also be a precondition for any negotiations with prospective investors. Discussions also highlighted the human rights and the specific impacts on women resulting from changes in access to resources that result from ‘large scale investments’. Suggestions for regional workshops for regional stakeholders (including parliamentarians, politicians, farmers, civil society, etc) were taken up and participants endorsed such proposals. Establishing links and collaboration with other regional bodies like NEPAD and the African Union were also explored. As policy development would make necessary ongoing monitoring of land-based investments underway (the processes through which they have been approved, their terms, and their impacts and implications for land and other resource rights, food security and equitable development), the discussions highlighted the need to establish centres of excellence to address ongoing research needs.

Seeing these suggestions through to meaningful policy creation and implementation requires ongoing engagement and ongoing pan African pressure from civil society on all African regional and national policy-making bodies. Policies should promote improved governance and better deals that can deliver real investment, but also policy alternatives must promote investment in Africa’s farmers – rather than their displacement to make way for foreign corporate agriculture. Both strategies are needed to ensure that the ‘second scramble for Africa’ does not unleash further catastrophic damage on Africa and Africans, in terms of destroying livelihoods of already impoverished people.

Let’s transform the debate on land reform

19 July 2011

This piece draws from PLAAS research evidence as well as opinions of PLAAS researchers voiced in informal discussions. The author takes sole responsibility for any disclaimers.

The future of South Africa’s countryside remains a hot topic for public debate. In anticipation of the release of the long-awaited Green Paper on Land Reform, which has been stuck in an opaque policy process for years, the focus of the political debate has rested on the question of ‘how to get the land’.

While Julius Malema’s calls for nationalisation of mines and land expropriation without compensation have reverberated throughout the country, the key questions that should guide a wider vision for agrarian reform on which a sensible land reform programme is to be based are not being addressed.

These key questions are:

  1. what do we want land reform for;
  2. how and for who do we want it; and
  3. with what land rights will we secure the ownership and tenure of those benefiting from land reform?

If the leaked version of the Green Paper on land reform that was circulating in 2010 is anything to go by the first two questions have hardly been considered in this key policy document.

The current model of land redistribution has over time resulted in more money being concentrated among fewer beneficiaries –apparently due to perception that inadequate grants were responsible for poor project performance. The Pro-active Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) currently in place does not give any guidance as to which set of potential land reform beneficiaries (large numbers of very poor people who need secure rights for settlement and small-plot food production, smallholders producing for local markets, aspirant commercial farmers or established and urban-based business people) should be prioritised. This has allowed the PLAS programme to lend itself to narrow elite capture as officials allocate farms to those judged to already have the skills and capital to keep existing farming operations going, at the cost of poverty reduction, equity and broad-based empowerment. Evidence from PLAAS research shows that where large commercial farmers were established the impact on livelihoods appears neutral.

Available estimates on the basis of DRDLR Monitoring & Evaluation data reveal that between 2001/02 and 2005/06 the average number of households benefiting from land reform per year was 3,900, and in the period 2006/07-2008/09 that number had diminished to 2,000 households per year, despite expenditure in excess of R1 billion.
The leaked Green Paper certainly has not proposed how this very expensive, narrowly targeted form of BEE for the elite will be transformed to benefit a large number of poor people who are using land in the former homeland areas, and in ‘commercial’ farmland areas, for their livelihoods.

And although Minister Nkwinti insists that 90% of the land reform projects his department has established have failed, new directions on how to transform the existing model to not deliver more of the same at a faster rate, but rather to achieve different results that do impact on poverty reduction and labour absorption, especially in the former homeland areas, have not been proposed. The continued emphasis on ‘graduation, i.e. turning small-scale farmers into large-scale commercial farmers, instead has been counterproductive in terms of maximising the creation of livelihoods of those already farming at a small-scale.

In his reply to the doubts raised about the merits of nationalisation by ‘analysts, big-business and ‘communists’’ Malema is unclear about what is seen to be ‘successful land usage and agriculture for the land that will be expropriated’. Is successful land usage and agriculture necessarily what is conceptualized as commercial ventures operating at a large-scale, with intensive, industrialized methods, and connected to globalised value chains?

It is not only Malema who remains vague about what exactly is the ‘public interest, and public purpose’ for which the State should confiscate land.

Although the political rhetoric since the 2008 ANC conference in Polokwane has indicated a clear departure from the Mbeki-era prioritisation of emerging commercial farmers for land reform and agricultural support, and a re-energised drive to find ways to support small scale farmers and ‘the rural poor’ in both the former homelands and in commercial farming areas, this vagueness of purpose has perpetuated in policy documents and debates.

Since the Department for Land Reform and Rural Development last year decided to split rural development and land reform as a focus for two separate green papers, there was some hope that this would lead to much needed debate on how to connect agriculture and redistribution policy. But on the basis of what Minister Nkwinti shared through the media very little of the focus of the land reform component appears to have changed.

The Green Paper on Land Reform, which has now been signed and sent to Cabinet after what can only be called purely formalistic consultation of the public, does however give some attention to the question of ownership and tenure rights.

As the Minister has confirmed in various media statements a three-tiered tenure approach is introduced, consisting of:

  1. Private land with regulatory limitations of freehold title in relation to sensitive land: “communal, coastal, heritage, rural, agricultural, environmentally sensitive, security-sensitive and border land”. The leaked Green Paper proposes for purposes of equitable redistribution land quantity restrictions or ‘land ceilings’; and the right of first refusal for the state to be imposed on both SA and non-SA nationals;
  2. State land, which is distinct from public land and described as: “Land previously acquired by community but held in trust by the state: compulsory adjudication prior to surveying of outer boundaries”.  All use rights will be allocated via leasehold and the Minister will have authority to grant rights for use and development;
  3. Foreign ownership with precarious tenure, proposing that all new land acquisitions by non-nationals to be in the form of leaseholds and that all freehold titles by non-nationals on sensitive and controlled land to be converted to leasehold.

In the public debate the third tier proposal has received a lot of attention (e.g. Tougher land laws coming); obviously due to the perceived impact such precarious tenure would have on foreign investment. But the implications of the second tier on the availability of land for the overwhelming majority of people who are using land for different purposes including farming on a small or medium scale, is far greater. In fact, the proposal for a leasehold system for all beneficiaries of land reform with use rights granted by the discretion of the Minister on the basis of how they use the land and whether they reach a certain level of productivity reproduces the bifurcation of land access and ownership that existed under apartheid.

The dominant narrative that frames the ‘use it or lose it’ principle underlying this notion views viable land use to be restricted to commercial farming with high levels of production, contributing to national food security through formal value chains that are plugged into global markets.

The class and the production agenda’s that can be deduced from this narrative are quite obvious, but they are not the only discourse on the intended outcome of agrarian reform in South Africa. Indeed, these competing narratives are a key contradiction cutting to the heart of tensions within the ruling tripartite alliance and its attempts to reconcile the interests of the landless, workers, emerging capitalists, landowners and investors.

The failure of post-apartheid South Africa to address the pressing challenges facing both land reform and the rural economy more generally may be due to inadequate policies and implementation, but essentially it indicates an intense political struggle.

That the reality is much more complicated than finding compelling ways to get the land may be obvious. But how does South Africa move beyond the stuckness of the land reform process by confronting the key issues head on? A reframing of the issues for a truly progressive public debate requires an understanding of the powerful interests that are vested into the current deadlock.

Great potential of Zimbabwe land reform limited by violent state?

23 March 2011

Land reform recipients achieved success almost entirely on own efforts

Report of a book launch summarised by Rebecca Pointer

Myths about land reform in Zimbabwe abound: the process is frequently described as a total failure, favouring political elites and cronies instead of the poor, lacking investment in new settlements, creating chronic food insecurity, and leading to the collapse of the rural economy. But do these media-perpetuated ideas bear any resemblance to reality?

Introducing Zimbabwe Land Reform: Myths and Realities at the South African launch on Thursday 10 March 2011, DST/NRF Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies and Senior Professor at PLAAS Ben Cousins, said the book is a study of  400 households located in one province in Zimbabwe — Masvingo — which has a relatively wet climate in the north and an extremely arid climate in the south. The research formed part of the PLAAS co-ordinated three country study Livelihoods after Land Reform, undertaken in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe study focussed on land reform beneficiaries of all three types of Fast Track Land Reform scheme: small A1 villagised settlements, A1 ‘self-contained’ settlements, and medium-sized A2 farms. The research project sought to understand the impact of land reform on of those receiving land, and on the local economy, and explore the different meanings of ‘viability’ which underpin land redistribution policies in southern Africa.

In Zimbabwe, the researchers found that the international media discourse on Zimbabwe land reform had little substance: the process was not a total failure, land had not all (or even mostly) gone to political cronies, investments were being made in new settlements, significant levels of crop production were taking place, and while rural economies were changing and adapting, they were not in total collapse. As one audience member described at the launch, the book ‘creates a platform for small, local narratives to be heard’ as it examines diverse experiences of land reform beneficiaries.

Ben Cousins

Ben Cousins went on to explain that in fact, there is no single, simple narrative of land reform in Zimbabwe. While challenging many widely-held beliefs, the book does not present a completely rosy picture of Zimbabwe land reform — there are also many problems: agricultural production for export has crashed, land tenure security after land reform remains somewhat tenuous, the government has done little to support people after transfers of land, and the input supply system has often suffered from corruption. Not everyone has engaged in successful farming, and new forms of social differentiation are emerging on the redistributed farms. However, the extraordinary resilience, and their willingness to experiment and innovate is also clear.

The first discussant at the launch, University of London Professor Henry Bernstein, a political economist of agrarian change , pointed out that the book is not pro-Zanu-PF and its evidence shows that some land reform recipients have achieved some success almost entirely through their own efforts and initiative, as the government has done little to support them. He said:

The book shows the complexity and contradictions of land reform in Zimbabwe (and the rest of southern Africa), including the differentiation of those who receive land.

The necessity for land reform derives from, first, a history of violent dispossession and, second, the kinds of agriculture that developed subsequently. After dispossession, rural southern Africans typically relied on combinations of wages and ‘subsistence’ farming for their reproduction. Access to more and better land at least reduces the pressures of reproduction for some of them.

The book also presents the challenge of proposing alternatives to the current model of large farms/agribusiness, and illustrates how elements of an alternative are disclosed, albeit unevenly and incompletely, by the studies in Masvingo. Moreover, it does so in a nuanced way, differentiating farmers not only by class, gender and off-farm activities and income, but also by the changes and varying fortunes of different branches of production, for example, maize and livestock. The book also highlights the South African impasse where the rural landscape inherited from colonialism and apartheid has changed little since 1994, and land reform is constrained by overly legalistic methods of transferring property rights, and by a post (re-)distribution project framework that often ties those who get land into ostensibly ‘efficient’ commercial business models, driven by or appended to white commercial farmers.

Henry Bernstein

The second discussant, Zimbabwe scholar Brian Raftopoulos and co-editor of a new History of Zimbabwe, said given the scope of Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe, it would have been a surprise if all of it was a total disaster. However, this book is only the beginning; more detailed, analytical studies of land reform in the region are needed to establish how generalisable this study really is. Brian Raftopoulos went on to contextualise the book in terms of the current Zimbabwe and regional milieu.

He was critical that the authors avoid discussing the authoritarian nature of the Zimbabwe state in the book, since the focus was on recipients, and therefore elements of coercion are missed by the study. While the book shows much potential for Zimbabwe land reform to truly transform livelihoods for rural Zimbabwe populations, Brian Raftopoulos argued that this potential was mostly unrealisable due the authoritarian nature of the state:

it is highly unlikely that the accumulation from below depicted in the study can be sustained under the current regime.

The political elites have tentacles in all aspects of the economy, Brian Raftopoulos explained, limiting the possibilities for smallholder producers to develop further without running into a system of elite control and patronage. However, he also argued that — and many don’t want to admit this — that land reform in Zimbabwe had served to increase Zanu-PF’s power as the party has a substantial support base in rural areas (even if this is to some extent a result of coercion). The MDC had for the most part failed to address the land question and it has also not been able to translate its election victory into state power because of blockages created by the country’s military-economic complex; similarly, its stance on sanctions has largely worked in Zanu’s favour (so that Mugabe is currently using it as his sole election position, just as he previously used land reform as his single platform).

So in the next while, we are likely to see an increasing normalisation of Zanu control in Zimbabwe, Brian Raftopoulos argued, as Zuma’s interventions in Zimbabwe have been less effective than Mbeki’s were and there is a growing international fatigue on the Zimbabwe question. Internationally and regionally, role players have failed to understand the resilience of Zanu and the way it uses land reform debates to hold onto position in the region (where all other SADC countries face many of the same issues), thus displacing Zimbabwe land reform problems onto the region.

At the launch, some of the audience criticised the (pro-Zanu) impression the book title gave but others indicated that it was refreshing and welcome to have a more nuanced approach than the demonising discourse of western media. However, concerns remained about the ability of land reform recipients to deliver on food security; Henry Bernstein pointed out that the highly aggregated data of the Food and Agricultural Organisation are often inaccurate, requiring subsequent ‘adjustments’ by as much as 20 to 25% and Ben Cousins described how he had seen full grain silos on land reform farms at a time when the World Food Programme was reporting food shortages.

Similarly, Ben Cousins said, reports on ‘collapsing food systems’ often get presented alongside stories of South African farmers not being able to export stable crops to Zimbabwe because it has bumper crops. Reports of the demise of agriculture in Zimbabwe are often exaggerated. In terms of non-food production, 15% more cotton was produced in Zimbabwe in 2008/9 than before land reform. Henry Bernstein pointed out:

Under the radar of the state — even the local state — new economic connections are being established and new markets are being created.

Brian Raftopoulus

Brian Raftopoulus said that while Fast Track Land Reform did disrupt commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe, this was accompanied by long-term drought which created huge problems for farmers, and input supply problems which are still ongoing.  He added:

While Zimbabwe’s economic woes have in some quarters been blamed almost entirely on Fast Track Land Reform, the economic collapse also resulted from inequality, poor state choices and structural adjustment programmes imposed by the IMF and World Bank.

This study shows that land resettlement has not been purely destructive and portrays a nuanced picture of local politics — one that will be familiar to many working in research in rural southern Africa. Despite its many problems, Henry Bernstein said Fast Track Land Reform has  subverted the agrarian regime  established by violence and dispossession,  and that it  is probably unrealistic to expect that this process could occur entirely peacefully and smoothly. The book is convincing that there is no way back to  the old  agrarian model in Zimbabwe  and informs possible futures, however uncertain they remain, because of the Mugabe regime and what might replace it. In this sense, the policy recommendations in the final chapter of the book remain somewhat gestural unless there is a very different political dispensation in Zimbabwe to take them seriously. Brian Raftopoulos added that the biggest obstacle to building on the existing potential of agrarian change in Zimbabwe is still Zanu-PF, and much depends on the nature of the Zimbabwe state.

Farm worker agri-villages: Back to resettlement schemes?

18 March 2011

by PLAAS Senior Researcher Ruth Hall

Nobody seems to like this bill. It has raised the ire of both of the constituencies whose interests it sets out to address: those who own commercial farms and those who live and work on them. Contrary to its name, the Land Tenure Security Bill appears to deal largely not with how to secure people’s land tenure, but rather how to manage their resettlement off farms.

Replacing failed (and unimplemented) laws

It is to replace two post-apartheid laws: the Extension of the Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 (ESTA) and the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996 (LTA). These two laws set out to secure the rights of farm dwellers (all people who live on farms, not only those employed) to the houses, land, water, firewood and other goods and services that they already accessed on farms, and to prevent arbitrary evictions.

They failed. The only national survey on evictions (conducted by Nkuzi Development Association and Social Surveys) showed that more people were evicted from farms in the first ten years of democracy (1994-2003) than in the preceding ten years, and only one percent of these evictions involved legal proceedings and a court order – as required in our Constitution.  Only one farm owner was prosecuted for illegal eviction. In short, the state has simply shown very little inclination to implement or enforce these existing laws.

What does the new bill say?

Like the existing laws, it protects the rights of people living on farms to continue to do so, except where the owner applies for a court order for their eviction. It gives special rights to people over the age of 60 to remain on farms for the rest of their lives, but these rights are not heritable, and so their families can be evicted following the death of a family elder.

The entire chapter of ESTA that dealt with how farm dwellers could secure and upgrade their rights on farms has been removed, together with the provisions for government to assist people to do so. Instead, those facing eviction will have one choice: move into an ‘agri-village’. There, they will acquire ‘temporary permits’ to occupy land and housing, but could later be removed to make way for others who can show better ability to use the land – in other words, their tenure will not necessarily be more secure in these agri-villages than it was on farms. As tenants of the state, they will be subject to the rules of a new Land Rights Management Board, a national body consisting of nine people who will decide who gets to stay in these villages, will issue temporary permits, and will resolve disputes. What role municipalities are expected to play, whether they are in agreement about this new expanded responsibility, or able to fund and provide required infrastructure and services, is unclear; they are not mentioned in the bill.

Addressing farmers’ concerns

This focus on agri-villages is in line with AgriSA’s vision of settlement in the rural areas, as contained in its land reform policy. Under the new plan, dense new settlements of ex-farm workers who will be accommodated on land acquired and serviced by government, and yet remain available for seasonal and informal work on farms when required.

In reality, most objections by farmers are not to new legal provisions, but (a) to the existing laws that are now to be joined in this new bill, and (b) the political rhetoric from government that has accompanied the bill, including in a policy statement attached to it.

Agri-villages not the answer

Farm worker unions and land rights organisations are also protesting against the bill – with some warning that, if it is promulgated, they will challenge it in court. They claim the bill does nothing to secure people’s tenure on farms, or to remedy the failings of the existing laws.

I agree: the answer is not to embark on massive resettlement schemes that will move the rural poor – including those evicted from farms – into new settlements, without the means of building their own economic activities. At best, they would have the benefit of state services and be able to continue to work on surrounding farms. At worst, though, these could well become the new dumping grounds, devoid of economic opportunities, with poor public services and without any independent rights to land, water and other resources.

The great irony, then, is that the Land Tenure Security Bill shifts the focus away from securing people’s rights, to facilitating their eviction and resettlement.

It is unclear what problems it is meant to solve, or whose interests it is meant to address.

The bill is highly unlikely to be passed in its current form, and so its publication should stimulate debate not merely on its flawed provisions, but on an alternative paradigm that can guide the future of rural settlement and secure the rights of farm dwellers.

Previously published in Grocotts Mail, Grahamstown

Impossible to tackle rural transformation and land reform separately in South Africa

16 February 2011

BASED on comments from presenters and the audience the key priorities emerging from the PLAAS public debate on rural transformation Back to the Plot! held on 31 January 2011 included:

  • land reform
  • service delivery in rural areas
  • experimenting with alternative modes of agricultural production, such as smallholder producers and organics
  • enabling access to food value chains for more producers, especially small producers
  • addressing the rising cost of farm inputs, including new technologies, fertiliser and petrol
  • addressing ecological matters.

The event was kindly supported by the High Commission of Canada and was packed to capacity, testimony to the political significance and importance of rural transformation for many South Africans. PLAAS Policy Dialogue Officer Obiozo Ukpabi opened the debate by highlighting the weaknesses of current media debates on rural transformation. She said the debate was an opportunity to put forward informed, researched positions on the priority areas for rural transformation.

Rural change has been taking place over a long stretch of time, PLAAS Director Andries Du Toit argued, yet these changes were in the interests of capital, not the poor and marginalised. He said that control over food value chains was held by supermarkets and large food-producing corporations. Therefore, in speaking about rural transformation, there are many questions about:

  • the quality and standard of rural livelihoods
  • food security
  • redress and reconciliation
  • climate change and other ecological factors.

Du Toit argued that

farmers are under increasing pressure from local circumstances, national policy and international competition; this was leading to massive job losses among farm workers. At the same time a lack of support for small holder agriculture and subsistence farmers means they have no way to gain entry into the food value chains — the bureaucracy involved in becoming an approved supplier to a supermarket, for example, is to complicated and costly for small farmers.

In addition the big brands in South Africa crowd out space for small traders in poor areas. Whereas in many other African countries local producers can sell to the local population in order to eke out an existence, in South Africa, local producers are forced to compete with large producers. And since issues surrounding rural transformation remain unresolved in South Africa, there is a lack of investment in farming — resulting in National food security being at risk.

Land access is problem for all uses, including housing, social services and farming; meanwhile the energy crisis, global warming and other ecological considerations make rural development extremely difficult. Optimism on organics is ideologically driven and we simply don’t know if it can generate as much food as industrial farming.

Devene Witbooi from the Right to Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign said farming in South Africa is race, gender and ecological disaster, and ‘to live in rural areas is to cry’. She spoke about how indigenous Khoisan still had not got their land back and restitution did not seem to be for them. Meanwhile, poverty worsens with farm workers being chased off ancestral land owned by commercial farmers, even though they were born and lived their whole lives on the land.

She went on to describe how along the West Coast, huge mineral resources are extracted, but people are not allowed on their land so they remain poor. Similarly, she described how Cape Nature rented land to multinationals like Monsanto so they can undertake GMO experiments, but when the poor ask for land, the government tells them none is available. The Campaign also critiqued goverment’s ‘participation process’, which for example, in Ludtzville involved the government speaking to people in English, which few in the area understand, then claiming there is no objection to their programmes.

Mazibuko Jara, an independent researcher and activist, showed how maps of South Africa today were barely different from apartheid map — tribal governance areas and poor areas map exactly to former homelands, so where people do have land it is the same land the apartheid government was prepared to give away, i.e. the poorest quality land. So, it is no good talking about rural development in terms of building services in these areas — this land was always unsuitable for sustaining the number of lives living their. And apart from the poor quality of the land in these areas, it is also overcrowded.

Jara pointed out that people in these areas are land hungry; to change the apartheid maps means we need to move people out of these tiny areas and create opportunities elsewhere, giving people access to better quality land for farming. Simply providing services in these areas will not change the apartheid maps and will not greatly improve rural livelihoods. Rural development needs to mean giving people access to land outside these former Bantustans. Yet, the lobby for sustainable agriculture does not underline need for land reform.

But even in the dominant model of capital intensive agricultural, Jara argued that structural problems affect sustainability. Since 1994 even white farmers in South Africa have gone bust due to the harsher global climate, the impact of globalised trade and tariff reduction, and the higher cost of inputs (the technology treadmill is expensive and creates high food prices and more monopolistic ownership of the food value chains; petrol and fertiliser prices are also much higher).

If those running capital intensive farms are hitting harder times, how can we expect small-scale farmers to cope?

In South Africa, land and food are increasingly coming to be owned by corporate enterprises who can more easily bear the risks of the variability of food growing. Jara pointed out that a recent global discussion conference on the agri-food system and food security, was sponsored by banks, chemical companies and food multi-nationals — all with a vested interest in the sector, so agriculture policy is driven by and in the interests of big business, not necessarily in the interests of the many poor farmers who rely on smallholdings for subsistence. So if sustainable agriculture is to succeed we need more inclusive and diversified agricultural and rural development models. This requires experimentation; it also means we need a proper critique of industrial agriculture and the neo-liberal WTO system that makes sustainable agriculture impossible.

Annelize Crosby from Agri-SA said much about farming and rural transformation is dictated by events outside South Africa, e.g. China and India, global warming and the WTO. Since 1994 many rural towns have deteriorated as big supermarkets move in, forcing local shops, traders, etc out of business.

With 65% urbanisation in South Africa, rural development is essential to feeding people.

She indicated that while we need experiments, they can go wrong and this could jeopardise food security. Therefore Agri-SA supports land reform, but insists that rural transformation must include service provision, skills transfer, and stimulating local economies with value adding business to reverse the trend of supermarket-isation.

From Agri-SA’s perspective, rural development and transformation have been neglected for decades in South Africa; if it really is a government and presidential priority, this should be reflected in the budget, with money not only allocated to farming but also to creating rural infrastructure for access to markets, storage and credit.

The audience highlighted that the ‘biophysical conditions of life are under threat due to methods of agricultural production, including land theft by Europeans in Africa’. Several audience members felt strongly that:

arguments about rural development and sustainability are a diversion from the key issue of land redistribution.

Since in 1948 land was access through repression and theft’ there was no reason not to just take the land back now. This section of the audience argued that the debate was ‘about racist control of stolen land, masquerading as science, while those who produce the food go hungry!’

They went on to warn that

people don’t plan to be angry, but if we don’t speedily manage the process it will come!

Even Agri-SA agreed that land reform was a core part of rural development, and that land reform should address rural poverty. Many also felt that the current capitalist modes of agricultural production were extremely damaging, as ‘capitalism creates concentration and marginalisation’ rather than sustainable livelihoods that are more than just jobs.

Since 1994 the former homeland areas have deteriorated even further, and Agri-SA spokesperson Annelize Crosby blamed some of this on the ‘supermarket-isation’ of local economies, leading to the collapse of small-scale local farmers and businesses. An further negative example of the impact of a business model of farming on food security was sited by an audience member from the Sustainability Institute, who said

87% of produce from Stellenbosch farms is exported, while 87% of credit is given to farm workers to buy food. Why are local farmers exporting so much produce when the workers who produce the food are starving?

So the current agricultural system was creating welfare states in rural parts of South Africa, where the only source of income are social grants and government created Economic Works Programmes. Apart from urgent land reform and redistribution, the audience argued for ‘comprehensive improved service delivery plans’ for rural areas, and ‘investment in teaching and instilling the value and importance of growing food in young people’.

The audience also objected to Annelize Crosby’s separation of the issue of household food security from the issue of national food security; they argued that national food security is meaningless when those who grow the food go hungry. Devene Witbooi insisted:

We don’t want Agri-SA handouts; we are the ones working the land, so it should be ours!

Prof Ben Cousins summarised and ended the debate, arguing that the ‘crisis will be resolved by organising people, not having debates … A vision for rural development will not come from Agri-SA or from academics, but from the people. The only solution is for those on the ground to realise their own self agency and pressure the state.’