Expropriation of land without compensation will result in serious damage to the economy and is fundamentally unjust, Member of Parliament and former Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom reiterated on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Agribusiness Africa conference, in Kempton Park, he said that while the country’s land reform programme had not quite yielded the outcomes intended, the notion that the “willing seller, willing buyer” initiative had failed was “nonsense”.
It is more a matter of applying the programme effectively and learning from the land reform successes to ensure the sustainability of the farms on which the country relies for food security.
This comes as the debate on land reform continues heatedly between political parties, government officials and other stakeholders who are divided between fair compensation and expropriation without compensation.
Many held the belief that the various reform programmes and policies implemented were a failure some two decades after inception, with South Africa’s economy still very skewed.
Land reform was a complex undertaking; however, there was no point in undertaking the initiative if the land was neglected and left unused for the purposes for which it was redistributed, as had been the outcome in many of South Africa’s land reform cases, Hanekom stated.
In many instances, when the State had acquired and redistributed land, productivity had decreased, the land was neglected, food production dropped and jobs were lost, he said.
“We can do land reform, but we cannot leave that land unused,” he said, reiterating the need for a multifaceted land reform programme and to learn from and analyse the successes of land reform and apply them effectively in future.
“I believe in land reform and there is a need for us to be serious about it,” Hanekom said.
“We need to take this seriously in the same way as when I said in 1994 that the greatest threat lies not in this land reform programme, but in us not doing it.
“A big threat to our country and the stability and unity of South Africans lies in us not admitting the huge racial disparities in our country,” he said, adding that the country, as a whole, needed to own up to it and offer up solutions.
Hanekom had been referring to a post-1994 era when the initial land reform programme had been developed and requests were made for landowners to help government make land reform a success, or face the threat of land reform failures and subsequent harsher measures, such as those seen in Zimbabwe.
“If Zimbabwe had embarked on a well-considered land reform programme designed to target the poor and landless, developed farm workers to build on the huge productive capacity of their peasant farmers in Zimbabwe, and let the small farmers grow and become big farmers, there would have been huge opportunities,” he said.
FEEDING THE WORLD
Hanekom, meanwhile, noted that Africa had the greatest opportunity to feed the growing world population by 2050 with its mass of agricultural land and expanse of unexploited opportunity.
The world’s current 7.5-billion-strong population will grow to 9.6-billion by 2050, which means that a 70% to 100% increase in food production is necessary to meet the growing demand for food.
This can only be done by increasing productivity on existing land or putting more agricultural land into production, and Africa held hundreds of millions of hectares of underutilised and unused agricultural land that can be put to better use.
“The greatest opportunity lies on this African continent, where the greatest challenges are as well,” he said.
Of the current 7.5-billion people, 795-million are suffering from chronic undernourishment, almost all of whom live in developing economies and a “very high percentage” in sub-Saharan Africa.
In recent years, the number of those without food had been significantly reduced, with much progress being seen; however, the least progress has been made in sub-Saharan Africa.
“One-in-four people in sub-Saharan Africa remain hungry and are suffering malnutrition.
“This is the hard reality that confronts us,” Hanekom commented.
However, with the huge growth in the number of people that have to be fed, demand for food will never disappear.
In sub-Saharan Africa, there was one-billion hectares of what is deemed to be agricultural land.
Some 200-million hectares of agricultural land is in use; however, it is not as productive as it should be, delivering low production and low yields.
“That is why sub-Saharan Africa remains significant importer of agricultural products, particularly staples. We simply aren’t producing enough to meet continental demand,” he said.
In addition, 30% of food is lost during harvest and storage.
Hanekom explained that Africa’s opening lay in the fact that, globally, the potential to expand production was limited and, besides sub-Saharan Africa, there was not much agricultural land left in the world.
Currently, sub-Saharan Africa held an additional 200-million hectares of land that could be put into agricultural use. This excluded land used for forestry, conservation or other purposes.
“Therein lies the huge opportunity, particularly as no other continent has that much unused agricultural land,” he said, noting, however, that this was not currently being exploited.
“If we are going to increase food production, we need to bring the 200-million hectares [of unused land] into production, and [further] exploit the underutilised 200-million hectares.”
While there are no simple solutions, and many which will require a series of policy interventions, the current scenario of low yields can be changed with innovation, better policies and providing more support to farmers, as well as the development of agribusiness in the region.
“We need sustainable intensification of agriculture, need to intensify increased yields but in a sustainable way.”
South Africa, however, fell short of the huge expansive continental opportunities regarding expansion and further land use.
“We don’t have it in South Africa,” Hanekom said of extra available agricultural land.
South Africa’s arable land only covered some 13% of its surface area – 3% of which is considered high potential – and is vulnerable to climate change, global conditions and droughts.
“We have limited opportunity to expand production, but we do have opportunity,” Hanekom pointed out.
The nation could benefit from sub-Saharan African countries’ heavy reliance on agriculture.
While agriculture in South Africa is considered to be an industry delivering some comparative advantage, similar to that of tourism and mining, it only accounted for 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), whereas sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP contribution as a whole is around 15%.
In some African economies, agricultural activities resulted in contribution to GDP of up to 80%, revealing a reliance on agriculture on levels that is just not seen in South Africa.
South Africa’s limited opportunities can be leveraged through technologies, its “good infrastructure” and other comparative advantages, Hanekom said, citing the country’s food processing industry, which represented a growing segment of the otherwise flailing manufacturing sector.
Food processing currently accounts for 11% of the manufacturing industry and absorbs some 15% of manufacturing labour.
“We are doing very well in food processing,” he explained, noting the expansive exports of processed foods, beneficiated and higher-value products.
Given the current reality, going into partnership should be the way, along with supporting small farmers, adopting good policy frameworks and deep collaboration with other sub-Saharan African countries.
“Yes, we [as South Africa] have our own peculiarities, our own strengths; but we sometimes forget that we are part of the African continent and we must just assert that,” Hanekom added.
He concluded that South Africa’s future was very much linked to the future and the policy decisions taken by its neighbouring and other sub-Saharan African countries.
“And therein lies great opportunities as well.”