Why black farmers are selling up

2011-09-03 16:05

A new class of farmer needs capital, training and time to reap what it sows

Free State farmer Francois Wilken recently bought a farm near Wepener from a desperate group of 20 emerging black farmers who had given up their 10-year struggle to make a living.

Without adequate government support and access to training, many of them have been forced to re-sell farmland given to them through land reform.

Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti conceded on Wednesday when he released the draft green paper on land reform that black farmers have resold nearly 30% of the white farmland bought for them by government.

Many sell it back to the original owners.

Wilken said the group of farmers were given the 113 hectare farm in 2001.

“For two years they were able to continue farming with the assistance of the previous owner,” Wilken said.

“But he was treated badly by some of the people and stopped helping them. There was no government assistance in terms of training, production or financial support.

“They wanted to sell the farm to me in November. I first tried to help them by speaking to government officials, to no avail. By March the farmers said they really needed to sell now.”

Shilling Shai (64) has been working and “studying” farming for the past 40 years on a farm near Tzaneen in Limpopo.

When the owner died and his children decided to sell the farm, they offered Shai 36 hectares.

“I needed to make a plan to get the money. When I went to the government, I was told they’d stopped buying farms for people. My only solution was to apply for a loan from the Land Bank, which I was given,” Shai said.

“I owned the farm for two and a half years but had to re-sell it because I didn’t get any help to buy farm implements such as tractors. In all that time I was only given 25 bags of compost.”

Shai was not able to get production off the ground.

“I was really suffering. This is the first time I’ve ever had such a big loan and I panicked,” he said.

“All I could do was sell the land again to get rid of my debt.”

This is a plight shared by many emerging farmers, said Mike Mlengana, president of the African Farmers Association of South Africa.

“Although government has started to listen to our concerns, no one is coming forward with an actual plan on how government is going to make emerging farmers commercially successful in the future,” Mlengana said.

While the green paper does provide for a recapitalisation and development programme, Mlengana said it focused on failed farms bought in the past.

“There’s a big gap between ­ re-investing with capital and training emerging farmers to make them successful commercial farmers,” Mlengana said. “There’s also a serious need to create a programme that will ensure farm and beneficiary selection is done properly – that you have the right type of farmer on the right type of farm.”

He said black farmers could not be blamed for their failures because they were not supported by government.

He hoped the new mentorship programme, where white farmers would be roped in to help and which Agri-SA was contributing towards, would aid struggling emerging farmers.

Livhuwani Ngwekhulu, transformation manager at Agri-SA, said a comprehensive support programme needed to run hand-in-hand with land reform.

“Capital and capacity support need to be in place before land is handed over to emerging farmers,” he said.


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