Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Land market will not solve redistribution issue, says professor

AN ASTOUNDING R69bn, rising to R83bn by 2016, has been spent on land reform since 1994, with only about 8% of land redistributed, University of Stellenbosch professor Nick Vink said on Monday.

The government’s target is to redistribute 30% of agricultural land by this year, a goal that is regarded as important to achieving redress of apartheid and building a politically stable future.

At the Mangaung conference in December, the African National Congress recommitted itself to accelerate the pace of land reform in the country.

The ruling party’s resolutions on land included replacing the "willing buyer, willing seller" concept with the "just and equitable" principle in the constitution immediately, where the state is acquiring land for land reform purposes. Another resolution said the promulgation of the new Expropriation Act must be expedited.

Prof Vink said the failure was a result of the insufficient resources government has allocated for farmer-support programmes, together with a mistaken focus that the best way to achieve redistribution was through the land market. He was speaking at the Land Divided Conference at the University of Cape Town, hosted by academic research groups to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Land Act.

"The biggest problem is that we have been trying to solve this by using the land market. That is wrong: we need to get around it by using farmer-support programmes," he said.

While support for farmers during the apartheid years was way beyond what the country could really afford, that support has tapered off to almost nothing, with the national budget pushing increasing resources towards redistribution. Prof Vink said that support to commercial farmers — regarded as subsidies — peaked at R12bn in 1970, which was on a par with countries such as Australia and New Zealand. This has since dropped to R250m a year, excluding special programmes for emerging farmers.

However, it was a fallacy that targeted support for emerging farmers could make the sector succeed, he said. Farmer-support programmes were needed across the board to support emerging farmers and the whole sector. Land reform policy advisers to the government in the early 1990s had discouraged farmer support as these were seen as subsidies.

"The World Bank should certainly take some of the blame. They did not want government providing support to farmers. To them support meant subsidies. Spending money on land reform though, was considered the right thing to do politically," he said.

Prof Vink, an agricultural economist, said that a second alarming trend could be seen in the great reduction in state resources for "conservation works" such as soil rehabilitation programmes and fencing. In 1970, R8.2bn (in 2005 prices) was spent on conservation, but by 2000 this had dropped to R176m. "That is something we are going to be paying for in the future," he said.

Several contributors to the conference noted the increasing concentration of commercial farmers with the resulting larger farms and lower employment.

For instance, while in 1996 there were 60,000 farming units, this had shrunk to less than 40,000 by 2007 and to less than 35,000 by last year.
Original Article Here

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