Land is wasted

Brendan Boyle

Brendan Boyle

Land reform is failing with potentially dire consequences for food security and political stability, the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) warns in a hard-hitting report that has been sent to government and to the new leadership of the African National Congress.

CDE executive director Ann Bernstein said yesterday that without a significant change of direction, the failure of the flagship programme to correct one of apartheid's most cruel effects would damage both the economy and the people it was intended to benefit.

The CDE is a development think-tank funded largely by South African business.

At least half of the land reform projects completed had failed, Bernstein said.

Huge tracts of previously productive land had been left unused and were being destroyed by erosion because the state lacked the capacity to redistribute it and to help new farmers get going.

"Support for new black farmers is nonexistent. The capacity of the state is weak and declining. Confidence is eroding in the agricultural sector. We're seeing a retraction. New farmers are struggling and existing farmers are exiting," she said.

The CDE report said conditions had deteriorated since its last report in 2005 and the challenges had become more urgent, but government had failed to come up with fresh ideas to get the programme back on track.

Without intervention, more land would be idled, pushing food prices higher.

"Politicians and officials are looking for scapegoats. They're saying it's white farmers, the free markets and foreign ownership, but it's not. There are many farmers who are eager to help. We're seeing a drift in the land sector and no leadership," she said.

The South African trend towards smaller farm units operated by less experienced and less well capitalised farmers is contrary to the global trend towards bigger and more mechanised farms to underpin rising food requirements.

"Small family farms are just not going to work for South Africa," Bernstein said.