The agricultural sectors in South Africa and Zimbabwe are hot news items right now, but can South Africa learn from Zimbabwe’s mistakes, and how will new policies affect agricultural trade? Nkosini Ngwenya finds out.
The South African agricultural sector has remained buoyant, despite the threat of expropriation of land without compensation. A number of key factors have boosted this wave of renewed optimism and agribusiness confidence, which has allowed the agricultural sector to continue to thrive.
One of these has been the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his inaugural State of the Nation (SONA) address and also in his follow-up speeches thereafter, where he has repeatedly reiterated that the expropriation of land in South Africa will not go the Zimbabwean route.
The president is adamant that no land grabs will be tolerated and that those who illegally invade land, with the intention of occupying it, will face the full might of the law. This has, in turn, boosted the confidence in the land-reform programmes and, most importantly, the agricultural sector.
The other factor relates to the financial state and climate surrounding the agricultural sector in the country. The financial relief programmes have gone a long way in assisting farmers with the financial burdens associated with running an agribusiness.
“With a national debt in excess of R160 billion, the reduction of the interest rate by the South African Reserve Bank by 25 basis points to 6,5 percent is a welcome relief to farmers and producers who are still recovering from the aftermath of the drought of two years ago,” explains Paul Makube, senior agricultural economist at FNB Business.
Across the border in Zimbabwe, the agricultural sector has taken centre stage under the new leadership of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, as he tries to appease investors and revive the ailing economy. However, the biggest problem is knowing exactly who has or owns land and where.
The fast-tracked land-reform programme of the 2000s under former President Robert Mugabe resulted in illegal land allocations, unclear boundary demarcations and ineffective recording systems.
What is clear, however, is that most farming activities in Zimbabwe occur on a small to medium scale. This is an area that can be exploited by both Zimbabwean and South African agricultural sectors. A focus on small and medium-scale farmers and prioritising them for funding will help boost agricultural production in both countries.
According to research by Ian Scoones for his book, Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: “Zimbabwe has an agrarian structure that is made up of small, medium and large farms, all under different forms of land ownership. A landscape that used to be dominated by 4 500 large-scale commercial farmers, is now populated by about 145 000 smallholder households, occupying 4,1-million hectares, and around 23 000 medium-scale farmers on 3,5-million hectares.”
Despite this aggressive land-reform programme, the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe has failed spectacularly, owing largely to the methodology employed in the redistribution of land.
This forced President Mnangagwa in his inaugural address to concede shortcomings and outstanding land-reform challenges that his administration will seek to address.
Of particular importance to President Mnangagwa is addressing the outstanding compensation payments to white farmers, whose land and farming equipment were taken by force. The other aspect of his focus has been to reclaim land from farmers who own more than one plot and from those who are failing to produce. As a result, much optimism, confidence and excitement currently surrounds the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe.
Most developing economies rely heavily on agriculture as a foundation and a basis for building a sustainable economy. The role of agriculture in Zimbabwe and South Africa remains integral to job creation in the rural areas and it is also an important earner of foreign exchange in both countries.
“South Africa and Zimbabwe need to ensure a healthy agricultural sector that contributes to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), food security, social welfare, job creation and ecotourism, while adding value to raw materials.
“However, the health of the agricultural sector depends on the sustainability of farming methods. Farming practices must, therefore, not only protect the long-term productivity of the land, but must also ensure profitable yields and the well-being of farmers and farm workers,” explains Dr Morne du Plessis, CEO at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) SA.
Crime is a major factor facing the agricultural sector in South Africa. According to Agri SA, there is an unacceptable level of crime and violence in rural areas. For the agricultural sector to realise its potential, it is imperative that farmers and farm workers are protected.
As a result, Agri SA says it is preoccupied with ensuring a safe environment for all people involved in the agricultural sector. A sound working relationship has been established with the South African Police Service at both policy and operational level with a view of addressing the relevant rural safety problems.
For the agricultural sector to continue to thrive, the South African government can learn important lessons from Zimbabwe on what not to do when expropriating land.
Agricultural trade between Zimbabwe and South Africa should also be prioritised to ensure that products such as tobacco and maize are freely exchanged between the two neighbouring countries.
This will strengthen agricultural trade and boost the two economies and ensure that expropriation of land is handled the right way without compromising food security, the economy and investor confidence.