Nicholas Woode-Smith writes that instead of fixing our floundering agricultural sector, government should let free market sort out the mess.
Johann Kirsten, Aart-Jan Verschoor and Colleta Gandidzanwa report in detail on the failure of South Africa’s government to bring prosperity to black-owned farms granted as a part of the land reform process (The SA government has been buying farmland for black farmers. It’s not gone well, 10 January 2023).
Limited access to capital and a lack of skills among many farmers were identified as key issues. But they aren't the fundamental issue. The overall failure of this entire agricultural reform project has been that it is a deliberate project in the first place. The government cannot create a sustainable and successful industry. More often than not, government involvement sours and degrades whatever it touches.
Rather, success in an industry comes from demand by consumers and by entrepreneurs taking their own risks and initiative to seek success. Handing land to people and pressuring them into entering a skill and capital-intensive industry isn't the way to redress historical exclusion. All it does is create an industry of underperforming farmers.
The authors suggest that the selection basis for beneficiaries should highlight the merit and skill of candidates. This is better than the current regime, but still misses the point. There should not be any deliberate effort on the part of government to mess with the agricultural sector. Leave it alone!
Deserving candidates will most likely find the means to achieve their dreams without the need for government. And deserving candidates are the least likely to even receive land or aid by a government notorious for mostly helping those with corrupt connections.
Want to fix our floundering agricultural sector? Leave it alone and let the free market come in and fix the mess.
- Nicholas Woode-Smith is a commentator, historian and author.