In order to avoid populism land reform needs to happen quickly and at scale.
This is according to Professor Ben Cousins‚ from the Institute for Poverty‚ Rural Development and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) at the University of the Western Cape.
The government should allow for a massive expansion of small holders so that 1.2-million people can have jobs‚ he said.
Cousins was a speaker at the AgriSA and Landbou Weekblad summit on land reform held at Bela Bela on Thursday and Friday. More than 500 people attended.
Cousins said an increase in small holding could allow people to earn a minimum wage of around R3‚500 a month. But he warned even if successful‚ it would not change much if unemployment remained so high.
South African unemployment is above 27%‚ which including people who have given up looking for work rises to almost 40%.
One in two youth under 25 is unemployed. Cousins says there is a need to use land but it cannot solve all problems. He said if land reform was not fast enough it “will not be enough to hold off destructive populism”. He also said destructive populism would succeed if unemployment remained so high.
But farmer Colin Forbes said even small holders still needed tractors and support and smallholding would be difficult without implements and financial support. He said people needed land to farm – and farm workers should be considered as recipients of land as they had the skill to farm.
What analysts agreed upon was that there were many obstacles to land reform.
Cousins said many of the problems faced were caused by dysfunctional government departments involved in land.
They also included lack of financing for new farmers‚ he said.
They also included lack of water and irrigation for crops as much of South Africa faced water shortages.
Agricultural economist Ferdi Meyer said one had to be mindful of the economic realities facing farmers.
He said agricultural margins were tight at the moment and there was a lack of water. There was a limited state budget for reform and support to farmers.
“The preferred scenario is inclusive growth for land reform and strong protection of property rights.
“If people lose their land‚ there would be food insecurity and discontent if we don’t go the right way.”
Meyer said farming and land reform was not “a one size fits all”. Different crops required different workloads‚ making differing amounts of money and needing different amounts of land and water.
He said land redistribution had to happen in the right way‚ without expropriation‚ so that money and investment did not flow out from country.
Deputy President David Mabuza addressed the summit asking farmers to trust the government.
He said the government wanted land reform but wanted to make unused land more productive and that farmers must continue to plant.
But Cousins warned that demand was for urban land‚ so people could live in cities near jobs.
But this could not be dealt with through rural land reform. “This must be dealt with by urban development.”
His colleague‚ Ruth Hall‚ also from Plaas at UWC‚ said the question of who must get land and why needed to be answered. Should it only be farmers‚ she asked‚ also mentioning that urban land was in demand.