Redistributive policy

ANC policy papers address key issues facing agriculture and land reform in South Africa

The last policy discussion paper published by the African National Congress (ANC) presents a positive change from the ambiguous agricultural policy that the South African ruling party has maintained in the recent past. The latest document addresses the major issues which, if implemented relentlessly, would drive the growth of the sector in a way that would benefit everyone.

The policy document is due to be debated at the ANC policy conference in July, which is a precursor to the party’s elective conference scheduled for December this year.

Previous policy documents were clouded by the proposed changes to the constitution allow expropriation of land without compensation in specific circumstances. Beyond the push for radical land reform, there was insufficient reflection on the drivers of growth in the agricultural economy and the importance of food security. The recently released document focuses on key interventions to boost the agricultural and rural economy. It highlights the sector’s role in job creation and poverty reduction.

The ANC recognize this:

agriculture remains an important sector of the South African economy. It has the potential to lift many poor South Africans out of poverty through increased food production, vibrant economic activity and job creation.

The policy discussion paper draws on ideas from a collection of studies 2018 who found that, on average, growth in agriculture reduces poverty more than an equivalent amount of non-agricultural growth. This highlights the need to invest and increase agricultural production. This is if South Africa wants to reduce poverty, increase its rate of economic growth and the rate of development, especially in rural communities.

Overall, my assessment is that the idea presented by these discussion papers on agriculture, land reform and rural development is good. They also address the fundamental issues that have held back the growth of agriculture in South Africa.

That said, once these ideas have been adopted as ruling party policy positions, they still need to be translated into government policies. There is a risk that they will be diluted along the way. Much will also depend on the government’s ability to implement the proposals.

The big issues

The ANC recognize that growth in the agricultural sector depends in part on effective land reform that includes bringing underutilized land into production. These lands are mainly found in state-owned agricultural lands and ancient homelands in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces. Weak land governance, infrastructure and institutions in these areas are among the main obstacles to agricultural progress.

The ANC is now focusing on the Land Reform and Agricultural Development Agency, first announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020 and more recently in the 2022 State of the Nation Address. Ideally, the agency would focus on the redistribution pillar of the land reform program. The other pillars are land restitution and land tenure. The agency would provide national coordination, cut red tape and become a one-stop shop for issues related to decentralized redistribution of farmland.

The details of how the agency will operate have not yet been defined. The Minister of Agriculture, Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, is expected to announce these before the end of June 2022.

The ANC policy documents also underline the need to improve the functioning of municipalities and network industries – road, rail, water, electricity and ports. These are problems I have underlined several times. Some of the challenges the sector has faced in the recent past stem from the malfunctioning of network industries and the failure of municipalities.

Municipalities provide services such as water and sanitation, electricity, roads and technological infrastructure. These are fundamental to the operation of agribusinesses and agriculture in general. Some agri-food companies are now using using their own funds to provide these services. These are resources that would ideally have been used to support new black farmers and agribusinesses.

If these challenges could be addressed, alongside handing over state land to properly selected beneficiaries, South Africa could achieve improvements in agricultural production and job creation.

The discussion papers also focus on rural development, recognizing its multidimensional nature. Rural development encompasses better infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity, and the construction of schools and health facilities.

Again, the challenge of deteriorating infrastructure remains a major obstacle. If improved, along with municipal governance and service delivery, South Africa would achieve a vibrant rural economy.

Agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, mining and tourism are among the key industries that would further contribute to economic growth and job creation with improved infrastructure. These industries contribute a decent share to the economy and job creation.

The only glaring omission from the documents is the idea of ​​”land donations”, which was floated in the media in April 2022. But it was first proposed by the Report of the Presidential Advisory Group on Land Reform and Agriculture in South Africa. Land grants would be an additional instrument to accelerate land reform.

Potential land donors would include churches, mining houses and large agricultural enterprises. The state would provide incentives or nudges for such a program. This would help increase land supply for the redistribution pillar of land reform.

Perhaps the Agrarian Reform and Agricultural Development Agency will incorporate land donations as one of its instruments.

What to avoid

The discussion documents will no doubt be revised by the ANC’s political conference. It is hoped that their thoughtful approach to agriculture, land reform and rural development will not be diluted.

This is particularly because the dilution of policy proposals could affect existing government approaches to agriculture and agribusiness. The Agriculture and Agro-Industry Master Plan and Budget Vote Speech recognized the sector’s contribution to economic growth, job creation and its potential for future expansion.