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Minister: Farmers needn't fear

2010-03-17 20:11

Cape Town - Farmers using their land productively need not fear the government taking their land, Deputy Rural Development Minister Joe Phaahla said on Wednesday.

All the department wanted to do was come up with a model for land reform, he told journalists after attending a Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) meeting in Parliament.

He was reacting to media reports that the state is considering declaring all productive land a national asset.

"I don't know what the farmers are worried about. There is no threat to take over their farms.

"There is no change of law. There is no change of the Constitution. There is no change of policy.

"If you are honest owning land, using it productively, contributing to the food security of South Africa... Really it would be a stupid government which would want to interfere with that."

'Holding on to land'

Agricultural unions and farmer organisations on Tuesday demanded clarity on a proposal in the department's Land Reform Strategic Plan that agricultural land become a "national asset", similar to the Chinese communist model in which farmers pay rent to the state, which owns the land.

Phaahla said one of the problems came from "land speculators" holding onto massive tracts of land, waiting for the government to become desperate and pay a high price for it.

"Is it fair to have a situation where I have 100 000 ha of land and I am doing nothing with it, and there are people out there who are hungry and who want to produce food, but they don't have land? Morally that can't be correct.

"Land is a scarce commodity. We must make sure it is put to maximum utilisation."

Phaahla told Scopa earlier that the target to redistribute 30% of agricultural land to black people dispossessed of land by the previous dispensation, "still remains" but the plan was not achievable in the current financial year.

"Thirty percent of agricultural land should be redistributed. In terms of how and when it can be achieved, we have put in the current strategic plan for discussion."

Skills drive

He said "a lot" of claims had been finalised, but many remain "not executed in terms of resources available".

The department was involved in "skilling up people" to take over land.

"Where there are farms distributed and people don't have necessary skills, we have engaged Agri SA, we have put out a call for experienced farmers to come forward so that they can be mentors to emerging farmers," he said.

Scopa heard earlier that the department had decided to use 25% of the budget for land reform and 25% of the restitution budget on "equipment and inputs" to make sure that the farms allocated to previously disadvantaged people were productive.

"We must also make sure what we have already redistributed and restituted is working," he said.

Unproductive farms

The department's director general Thozi Gwanya told journalists there were "concerning signs" that a number of crop farmers had been selling their land to game farmers.

"It is common in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape," he said.

"This is causing a drop in food production from the people involved in crop farming. It is very concerning."

Last year it emerged that more than half the farms bought by the government as part of its land redistribution programme for agricultural development had either failed or fallen into decline.

More than 90% of the 5.9 million hectares of land the state bought for emerging farmers was not productive.

This meant that the agricultural sector's portion of the gross domestic product could drop.