Farmers gathered for the second and last day of the Landbou Weekblad and Agri-SA Land and Agricultural Summit, where they shared their experiences of the sector.
The summit comes following the 27 February 2018 motion adopted by the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. The matter was subsequently referred to the Joint Constitutional Review Committee.
Director for Corporate and Development Matters at Mahela Group, Pieter Vorster, outlined the partnership between the group and the Riefontein Homeless People Trust since 2015. The group cultivates citrus on land that was expropriated in the mid-90s and fell into disrepair.
Vorster said while the partnership, which entails a 25-year lease, is still in its infancy, progress has been made on the land belonging to the trust. The original agreement entailed that Mahela would develop the first 56 Ha of about 110 Ha of the land within the first four years of the lease agreement coming into effect, a feat which was reached within the first two years.
“This accomplishment shows our commitment towards the partnership with the trust,” said Vorster of the land in Ohrigstad, Limpopo, which was found barren and unproductive.
The first phase of development on the land began in 2016 and over the years, the area has proven to be beneficial for the cultivation of soft citrus.
Over the years, the partnership has seen the building of irrigation dams and other crucial infrastructure and expertise provided by the group.
While farming in partnership sometimes carries its own challenges like investing in someone else’s land and being driven off the farm, there are benefits in partnerships, which include the employment of the local community. Another benefit has been that all infrastructure put in place remains the property of the trust.
“You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the collective willingness and corporation of farmers in South Africa to breach these challenging and uncertain times in the history of our country,” said Vorster.
In his address to the summit on Thursday, Deputy President David Mabuza urged farmers to continue to work hard, invest in their farms and increase production. He emphasised that the land reform processes that government is undertaking pose no direct threat to the agriculture sector and the economy as a whole.
Also speaking on the regeneration of restitution farms, head of the largest private citrus exporter in South Africa, Komati Fruits, Milaan Thalwitzer, said crucial factors for successful partnerships include direct community involvement.
Komati Fruits is in a partnership with Hoedsruit Fruit Farms, where 600 hectares of citrus land is owned by the Molotele community.
Thalwitzer also expressed his wish for government to identify how many farms it needs to be rehabilitated, as well as what the constitutional change will involve in order to eliminate uncertainty and fear.
He expressed his wish for the establishment of land reform business centres that would be assisted by the private sector.
“The next strategy must be to get land reform on track at ground level,” said Thalwitzer.
Thalwitzer’s comments come as government urges South Africans to be patient as the parliamentary process continues. The Joint Constitutional Review Committee conducted an extensive nationwide public hearing process from June to August into the matter. Deliberations on the public hearings and written inputs is set to occur between 4 and 7 September 2018.
Challenges faced by emerging farmers
Emerging black farmers at the summit also spoke of their challenges in accessing funds for farming purposes.
Farmer Whiskey Kgabo urged funding institutions to place themselves in the shoes of emerging farmers and consider their needs. He outlined the challenges that black farmers face in the value chain, while others spoke of the slow pace of transformation.
Government has said that South Africa’s skewed patterns of ownership must be addressed in a responsible and sustainable manner. The November 2017 Land Audit Report revealed that whites own 26 663 144 ha or 72% of the total 37 031 283 ha of farms and agricultural holdings by individual landowners.
Government stressed that agricultural and residential land is needed to ensure that all people can live with dignity and have access to economic opportunities
In the same vein, the majority of black emerging farmers spoke of the importance of mentorship, which has played a big role in their development.
“Without mentorship, I wouldn’t be this far,” said award winning dairy farmer Tshilidzi Matshidzula, who studied animal production at the Tshwane University of Technology.
Today “Chilli“, as he is known, is co-owner of Mayshibele, a dairy milking more than 800 cows.
Held in Bela Bela, the summit was aimed at finding common solutions to South Africa’s land and economic challenges.
Government committed to land restitution
The South African government has reiterated that it is committed to a fair and sustainable land restitution and redistribution process.
Government has repeatedly stated that nobody has the right to invade land or to violate other people’s rights and that it will at all times uphold the law and ensure that the rights of all South Africans are protected.
It has further stated that it will not tolerate any acts of violence and intimidation that seek to undermine its efforts to ensure the stability of the country.