Of the 64 countries globally which have embarked on land reform, 17 had restitution programmes in place and only 11 have claimed to be successful, says Dr Theo de Jager, president of the World Farmers Association.
“Our research shows that there are four elements the countries with successful land reform had in common. This should be a guideline for SA as well,” De Jager said at the African Agri Investment Indaba in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Each one of these countries had a special financing mechanism to assist beneficiaries of land reform to become profitable farmers, he said.
“Patient and sympathetic finance is needed – finance that is cheaper than that available in the market and over a longer time span than that available in the market,” said De Jager.
Secondly, these countries that had successful land reform had buy-in from those standing to “lose” in the process and from those standing to benefit.
“Thirdly, each one of those 11 countries did something special to ensure the officials who dealt with land reform did not take sides with either the beneficiary communities or the land owner communities,” said De Jager.
“And fourthly, each of those countries managed the transfer of the land and the management of the land to ensure those who got the land would be able to farm the land.”
He said in Zimbabwe, the way land reform was managed actually destroyed agricultural financing.
“Land was no longer seen as good collateral and the same is happening in SA. Farmers are struggling to get finance. Bigger farmers end up getting bigger because they can get finance, while small farmers fall out,” said De Jager.
“So, in my view this is probably the biggest wolf at the door for SA farmers.”
He emphasised that there is a big difference between “land” and “farms”.
“A farm is much more than just a piece of land. Too often we have seen in SA that land reform turned farms into land again,” said De Jager.
“It takes much more than the price of a piece of land to turn that land into a farm. All over the world the challenge is to maintain farms and to make them more competitive and profitable in the process.”
De Jager said uncertainty around expropriation without compensation hampers growth.
“The ANC is now like a rat in a pipe with no turning back from its land expropriation decision ahead of the election next year. Don’t underestimate the role of politics in this process. We will have a difficult election and people will get angry about it,” said De Jager.
He emphasised that the National Development Plan (NDP) speaks about rural development and land reform and moots the partnership model where commercial farmers partner with local small farmers to open the value chain for them. He said there are already more than 100 such examples in SA.
“Unfortunately, the NDP plan was never supported with a budget and was largely driven by private sector initiatives,” said De Jager.
“SA has the benefit of having seen what happened in Zimbabwe and we must hope the majority of South Africans will keep the voice of reason in the land reform process.”