The National Beneficiary Selection and Land Allocation Policysigned in late February 2022, proposes that at least 50% of all acquired land be allocated to women.
This is a positive development because the under-representation of women in land reform programs as beneficiaries has been a problem. Recent statistics indicate that women represent only 23% of the beneficiaries of agrarian reform at the national level. This is despite government policy rhetoric that women and other vulnerable groups should be the priority beneficiaries of this program.
The White Paper on South African Land Policy (1997) specifies that the priory should be given to the marginalized and women in need. Later policies continued with this rhetoric, but in practice it was not implemented and the under-representation of women continued.
Research from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agriculture Studies (Plaas) in 2019 on land redistribution showed that under-representation was rooted in beneficiary selection criteria. This requires that potential candidates have resources and experience in agriculture in order to be able to maintain production on the farms. Moreover, there was no mechanism in place to ensure that women would be given priority.
Now that the policy is in place, the ministry should build on it by ensuring that 50% of post-installation resources are also allocated to women. And this post-installation support should be designed around the needs of the beneficiary.
Currently, the government requires the recipient to produce a business plan indicating what they will need to continue commercial production on the farm. Subject to the available budget, the government then decides which aspects of the business plan it will fund and determines when the resources or funds will be made available.
Funds are usually disbursed in installments. This sometimes puts the beneficiary at a disadvantage because the time it takes to make funds or resources available is long and not adapted to the needs of the beneficiary. With the insistence that land reform beneficiaries engage in large-scale, capital-intensive commercial agriculture, the beneficiary “fails” to maintain commercial production on the farm and the farm collapses. The farm is then considered a failure.
By the time the second installment arrives, production has already been affected. Sometimes, for various reasons, including land rights to the farm, beneficiaries cannot obtain private investment or financing from commercial banks.
Noma Magaxa (a pseudonym) is from the Eastern Cape. She received a farm thanks to the Proactive land acquisition strategy in 2008. She and her husband sold the farm they owned and cashed in their pensions to invest in the new farm. They have requested funding of R4 million to invest in the farm’s tomato and poultry production activities. But tragedy struck Magaxa in 2009, when her husband died. She was left without a partner, and the state did not support much either.
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Magaxa finally received state support in 2012 – an amount of R1 million. In 2014, she received 2 million rand. She received the last million rand five years later.
“After five years, I received my last tranche of recapitalization funding. There was an implementation plan, but things have changed. Things are more expensive now – it’s been four years,” Magaxa said.
“Funding hasn’t helped us much. The same water and electricity problems are still there. Immediately after receiving the funding, cables were stolen. Still no water, but I managed to buy some JoJo tanks with the last installment [of money].”
She added that the funds should be released all at once so that farmers can plan and implement their plans efficiently.
“In 2014, I finally saw progress and my products were in demand in the market. But then my water problems started. I had no water. The next installment was only made available in 2019, after how many years? At that time, the damage was enormous. We are starting over! We repair the tunnels! We buy cables; they are stolen! The police find nothing and do not help.
Electricity is expensive and unaffordable and therefore the connection was cut off. Now Magaxa can no longer pump the water she needs to irrigate and power lights to raise chickens. She had to lay off workers and was robbed because the yard is dark at night.
Magaxa said she felt betrayed by the state and feared the farm would be taken away from her if she continued not to produce on the farm. She worries about what will happen to her children once she dies, after investing in the farm, because the lease granted to her does not say much about the estate.
Land tenure security and financing
Land tenure security is another aspect that needs to be considered as it tends to disadvantage farmers. Magaxa could not approach banks to borrow money when it needed funds to invest in the farm because it had a short-term lease.
“We couldn’t go to the banks and borrow because of the short-term leases we got, for three years. The bank refused to give us anything. We then obtained a five-year lease. It wasn’t until 2019 that they gave us a 30 year lease, at least the bank can think of giving us something.
Nor can the issue of tenure security and access to finance be resolved by approaches that are not comprehensive in nature and take into account all aspects of commercial agriculture. Giving land titles to farmers, as the common narrative suggests, can make things worse for farmers like Magaxa.
Failure to repay this loan could result in repossession of the farm. A comprehensive approach is needed. For example, what are the proposed responses to unaffordable electricity costs? What are the proposed water access interventions that represent a significant challenge for many land reform beneficiaries? All of these challenges and more would sink farmers and they would lose their farms to lenders.
As long as the beneficiaries of land reform are forced into large-scale commercial agricultural production, all of these issues and more must be considered. Simply, allocating land while applying the “use it or lose it” principle, as the current national policy for beneficiary selection and land allocation suggests, will disadvantage women and other non-elite beneficiaries who often , do not have their own resources to support commercial production on farms. .
Gender-responsive planning methods, as suggested by the Presidential Advisory Group, and government transparency and accountability mechanisms, would be helpful in improving the lot of women and ensuring that they equally benefit of the agrarian reform program. This decision is a positive step towards achieving equitable access to land. DM
Nkanyiso Gumede is a researcher at the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agriculture Studies (Plaas), an independent policy research institute within the Faculty of Economics and Management at the University of Cape Town western.