Last night President Zuma delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) amid much turmoil in Parliament, but more importantly also amid a country grappling with many challenges, issues and frustrations. In his address President Zuma made considerable reference to Land Reform issues, including the introduction of a 12 000 hectares land ceiling, foreigners to be deprived of owning land in South Africa, the introduction of the Office of the Valuer General to signal the end of the so-called “Willing buyer, willing seller” principle, and the introduction of the 50/50 farmworker equity and co-management scheme on a pilot basis. Reference was also made to revitalising South African Agriculture as part of a 9 point plan to speed up economic recovery, and bringing 1,0 million hectares of so-called under-utilised land into production.

“While little detail exists as to how government intend rolling out these controversial measures, Agbiz will be engaging with government in the legislation drafting process to firstly assess the impact these measures will have on business confidence and the investment climate in the sector, and ultimately on growth, employment and food security. Secondly Agbiz will attempt to alleviate the negative consequences these announced measures will have on the industry through engagement with government and other stakeholders,” Dr John Purchase, CEO of Agbiz stated today.

This Agbiz position is with specific reference to the Deparetment of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) policy document entitled: “Agricultural Landholding Policy framework: Setting upper and lower bands for the ownership and use of agricultural landholdings”. This policy postion was highlighted during the week with statements emanating from the ANC Lekgotla that land ownership would be limited to two farms per owner, as well as to a maximum of 12 000 hectares.

Agbiz has in the past and again states that it does not support the policy of limitations to landholdings in an open land market as such an action invariably compromises the principle of a competitive and efficiency–driven agro-food system that ensures food security for this country. If you compromise on this accepted economic principle, the setting of so-called bands or ceilings becomes arbitrary and such decisions are then ultimately taken by government, at their whim, with potentially dire consequences. But it is not just an important economic principle that would be compromised, the effective practical implementation and effect thereof is highly questionable.

At the Land Tenure Summit held in September 2014, Minister Nkwinti raised the issue of large landholdings by white commercial farmers being immoral in a country where the black majority were deprived of land through specific legislation, such as the Natives Land Act of 1913. Agbiz would fully concur with the Minister if highly excessive agricultural landholdings were held by individuals, corporates, state-owned entities and government, and such agricultural landholdings were clearly not being used/farmed optimally or productively in the broadest sense of the term. To this end Agbiz believes that where such situations do occur, an ad hoc engagement approach, probably through the envisaged District Land Committees or Land Commission, could be initiated to deal with the matter in a completely different manner to the proposed blunt and discriminatory ceilings per district.

This does however not take away the absolute imperative of Land Reform and creating significant opportunity for previously disadvantaged individuals to access land through support from government and through other measures, such as AgriBEE. Agbiz, with partners, has developed a proposal for the commercial financing of land reform, in line with the NDP’s model on land reform, to specifically and significantly speed up such necessary land reform.

The point is that there are far better and more effective ways to effect sustainable and significant land reform in South Africa, and benefit society as a whole.

“It is especially the land ceilings, and 50/50 farmworker equity and co-management scheme, and deprivation of foreign landownership that run contrary to the letter and spirit of the Land Reform Model proposed by the National Development Plan (NDP). These contradictions are cause for concern,” Dr Purchase emphasized.

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