Rural development and land reform minister Thoko Didiza has announced a programme to dole out 896 farms on more than 700 000 hectares of underused state-owned land to encourage emerging farmers and facilitate their development.
The plan is part of a commitment from the government — announced during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address — to lease large tracts of state-owned land for agricultural purposes. He announced then that priority would be given to young people and women entering the farming sector.
The farming land will be leased to emerging farmers for 30 years, with technical and financial support provided by the government, according to Didiza, who addressed a briefing in Pretoria on Thursday.
Since the plan was announced in February, 135 117ha of land had been released to 275 farms in eight of the country’s nine provinces.
Of the beneficiaries, 160 were women, 114 were young people, and one emerging farmer was a person with disabilities.
Addressing issues of ensuring that beneficiaries are the rightful workers of the land, deputy minister Mcebisi Skwatsha said that farmland would not be allowed to be sub-leased to other people by the farmers.
“This cannot be allowed,” he said. “There are specific reasons why people [who applied and were awarded land] are allocated the farm. We will also provide them with the necessary support [to operate the farm].”
“Some of the people allocated farms will be first-time farm owners. This is why people who have been selected will be trained and given technical expertise,” Skwatsha added.
Asked how the department would deter corrupt deals or bogus recipients from benefiting, Skwatsha said the application and vetting process would be closely monitored. To ensure this, the department will screen and interview potential recipients.
The department wants to avoid scenarios such as the 2012 Vrede dairy project, a R250-million project meant to benefit emerging, black dairy farmers.
However, no money or resources went to the farmers; instead, Free State government officials allegedly funnelled the money to the Gupta family and their associates. The project is currently the subject of various investigations by the Hawks, the public protector, and the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.
Skwatsha said current cases of corruption and fraudulent land applications are being looked into by the department.
“The issue of corruption is receiving our attention vigorously. This department has been able to facilitate processes that have ensured that people have been sent to jail because of corruption,” he said.
A breadbasket for the future
Didiza said farming, regardless of scale, should be seen as a business enterprise and a means of economic empowerment, particularly for women and young people.
There are plans in the pipeline to negotiate with other state entities to buy agricultural produce and products, which will sustain these farms.
“Yes, we are dealing with food security, but you must also make an income … The department of defence can buy and procure their food from emerging farmers. You have to feed soldiers, and the question is: From who do you buy? This offers an opportunity for farmers, the department of defence, and even the department of correctional services, which can be an immediate market for smallholder farmers,” she said.
Didiza said a land-inquiry process would also be conducted to determine how many people have been living on state-owned land; in some cases, she said people had been doing so for as long as 20 years.
The leasing plan could have implications for people’s right to security of tenure if they were to be evicted to make way for emerging farmers.
“Yes, they may have been there for 20 [years]. But their status is not confirmed. It might be that, in the inquiry process, those people may be recommended to be given formal status on that leasehold,” Didiza said.
She added that the department would intervene in cases of illegal evictions.