South Africa: Small Farmers Can Spur Economic Growth

By Melissa Britz


Cape Town — Smallholder agriculture has potential not only to alleviate poverty in South Africa, but to spur general economic growth, a major conference on combating poverty and inequality has heard.

Given that South Africa’s growth is lagging behind that of many smaller African economies, the potential of small farmers to help turn the country around has been a recurring theme in most sessions of the conference.

“While the place of agriculture and its contribution to the gross domestic product has declined over time, it remains an important sector of industry,” said Mazibuko Jarra of the University of Cape Town’s Law, Race and Gender Unit.

Independent researcher, Stephen Greenberg, added that agriculture and land reform are closely linked and that the lack of access to land has “decimated” small-scale agriculture in South Africa. This impacts on food security as people in rural areas rely on subsistence farming in the absence of economic alternatives.

Land reform, aimed at achieving the transfer of land from white to black farmers, has been a slow and expensive process in South Africa.

Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), noted that the government’s land reform policy was based on a “willing buyer, willing seller” principle, because it was perceived to be quicker and relatively cost effective.

Jarra said that while many commercial farmers are now willing to sell due to the economic climate, prices determined by the market are unreasonable. He argued for a re-examination of land expropriation within the context of the country’s Constitution.

Greenberg echoed Ben Cousins, also of PLAAS, when drawing a distinction between ownership of and access to land by leasing for example.

Access to credit is a major stumbling block to small-scale farmers.

Greenberg noted that only three percent of the government-backed Land Bank’s loan book goes to small farming operations, since policy and support focuses on large scale and corporate agriculture.

“Small scale and decentralized agro-processing is needed in South Africa but this is not possible without state intervention and a break with big industrial agriculture.” Jarra added.

The large number of sessions addressing the interlinked issues of access to land, farming and agrarian reform is indicative of the complex and emotive nature of the debates at the conference.

The conference is entitled “Towards Carnegie III: Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality”. Two earlier conferences and research programs, looking at similar issues in the 1930 and 1980s, were funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


Posted by on Sep 6 2012. Filed under Environment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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