Land and poverty: avoidable bedfellows

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The potential for the land reform process to promote a more inclusive agricultural economy is being explored through the work of two Research Chairs.

Land and poverty. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Professor Ben Cousins of the University of the Western Cape’s Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, has been operating since 2010 and has been looking at the success of small-scale farmers in relation to changes within the commercial farming sector. 

The primary focus is on the challenges that small-scale farmers face and whether or not land reform has had the envisaged impact.

He says that the lack of support for these farmers, their lack of knowledge and the influence of large-scale operations have been identified as the biggest challenges. 

 This is not a uniform picture, however, with some examples of successful operations. For example, in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, where a beef production farm, owned and operated by former labour tenants with pre-existing technical know-how, has been able to operate successfully.

In another case in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, the community has appointed white farmers to run operations.

Cousins admits there are currently no clear-cut solutions or alternatives to ensure the success of small-scale farmers in the face of many varied challenges. The Chair has enabled him to establish a wide range of international partnerships that is helping to grow knowledge of how South Africa’s realities relate to global findings.

Professor Charlie Shackleton at Rhodes University is undertaking similar investigations through the Research Chair titled Interdisciplinary Science in Land and Natural Resource Use for Sustainable Livelihoods. He was appointed to his Chair in 2013.

He explains that the Chair is focused primarily on investigating ways to promote sustainable livelihoods and alleviating poverty through intelligent use of land and natural resources. 

To do so, he is trying to gain an understanding of the most effective ways to use land for multiple purposes simultaneously, how this aids poverty alleviation and promotes sustainable livelihoods in rural and urban settings, what measures are needed to achieve this and the ecology of different wild plant and animal species.

He says the research is at an interesting intersection of social, economic and ecological studies, which is why the interdisciplinary approach is so important to making his work worthwhile.

He acknowledges that the long-term nature of a Research Chair offers him unprecedented scope and latitude to address complex societal and livelihood questions that by their very nature require long-term investigation. The impact, he hopes, will be a clear view that is palatable to multiple government departments — from agriculture, environment, forestry, human settlements and social development — of the benefits from implementing proven models at scale.

This supplement has been paid for by Department of Science and Technology and its contents signed off by the DST and the National Research Foundation.

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