4 August 2012

South Africa: Land Reform Cannot Undermine Food Security

press release

This is an extract from Helen Zille speech on 'economic liberation in our lifetime', delivered at the University of the Western Cape yesterday.

Food Security must be a priority in any country that wants to deal with economic exclusion and poverty. Food security is a vital component of economic liberation. Often countries that produce enough food to feed their people do not know what an advantage they have until they lose it.

That has happened in other countries, now desperate to regain food security.

Although there are people who are hungry in South Africa, we are still a country that produces enough food to feed all 50-million people and export food. Our challenge is economic inclusivity so that everyone can afford to eat. And our next challenge is the looming drought which will increase food costs (especially staple food such as maize) and threaten food security.

Land reform is also an imperative. We need to broaden access to land. This is part of the inclusion we seek. We must ensure that we undertake land reform in ways that do not undermine food security.

Alarm bells start ringing when one hears the government's own statistics on the failure of current strategies to achieve land reform. The failure rate is 90%. What this tragically often means is that once productive farms become unproductive. This places South Africa's food security at risk.

Land reform has so far failed because the government has managed it very badly. In fact, a speaker at a recent conference said that if all the money spent so far had merely been used to buy up farms at market related rates, that money would have been enough to buy 34% of South Africa's farms. While the government is very far behind its quantitative targets on land reform, it is even further behind on the productivity targets.

The comprehensive national land audit was supposed to have been completed in June. We are still waiting for it, and will wait a long time. But it is common cause that there are millions of hectares of state land that could be used productively for land reform and emerging farming enterprises.

Equally, much of the most fertile land in South Africa is seriously underutilised and often not farmed productively at all. The millions of hectares along the East Coast of South Africa comprise the most fertile and potentially the most productive farm land. Yet much of it lies fallow. Where it is farmed, it is done on a subsistence basis. This can never sustain food security in South Africa. Getting our most fertile land productive, must surely be the primary goal of land reform. Current communal ownership patterns are simply not working to farm productively or sustainably and help feed the nation.

Land Reform on productive farms should also be undertaken primarily on the basis of equity share schemes. This enables people who work the land, to get a direct stake in it through ownership, and share the risks and rewards. This has worked very well where it has been attempted, particularly in the Western Cape.

But it makes no sense to re-allocate productive farms in contexts where food production will either decline steeply, or stop altogether. If that occurs, South Africa will lose one of the pillars of its economy, and the most basic requirement to feed its people: national food security. We won't know what we have lost, until it's gone because the first freedom is the freedom to eat.

Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance

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