SA ‘may lose investors’ over land reforms

A key South African farmers’ group on Wednesday warned of an exodus of foreign investors from the country’s agriculture sector if policies, including one limiting foreign land ownership, are implemented.

Agri SA, due to submit its own proposals to the government after a two-day meeting, said South Africa could harm its agriculture sector if land proposals in a government green paper are applied.

Agri SA has said some of the proposals deal with limitations on private land ownership, a right of first refusal in favour of the state when land is offered for sale, and the regulation of ownership of land by foreigners and a new land ownership Bill.

The government was due to present the green paper to Parliament on Monday but it did not do so and no reasons were given.

“We have seen a major outflow of investment in agriculture in the last few years because of the way land reforms have been implemented,” Agri SA deputy president Theo de Jager told Reuters in an interview.

“We see that if this is not dealt with cautiously, we might lose even more foreign investment.”

A new South Africa draft land policy proposes limits to land ownership by its own citizens and foreigners, as part of plans to resuscitate its flagging land-reform programme, under which it had hoped to transfer a third of all farmland to black people by 2014.

De Jager said without clarity on the contents of the land-reform policy, it would be difficult for the country to lure foreign investors.

“The problem we have with loss of foreign investment is the uncertainty [over land reforms] … investors leave because of this,” De Jager said.

The land-reform programme has also caused unease among local farmers as white commercial farmers remain unsure of whether to reinvest in farms under claim by black people, he said.

De Jager said Agri SA would seek an audience with the government to discuss how best the land reforms can be implemented without hurting food production in the country.

Agri SA said it would seek to meet authorities to discuss contents of the land review. It said last month that it had not been consulted over the policy review.

Land reform is a sensitive issue in South Africa and has been brought into focus by the decline in agriculture in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where white commercial farmers were often evicted violently by President Robert Mugabe’s government.

Pretoria has said its own land reform will be orderly, but critics say many of the same problems faced by Zimbabwe, including lack of proper support for new farmers and inadequate farming skills, are likely to hinder South Africa’s programme. — Reuters

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