Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

AGRIBUSINE­SS PERSPECTIV­ES: Lack of trust is impeding farmer developmen­t


Many role players across the agricultur­al sector agree that South Africa needs both large and small farmers. However, many black farmers fall in the category of smallholde­rs and often do not have access to land. Even in cases where some do have access, the land is often not equipped with adequate resources such as irrigation and other necessary infrastruc­ture needed to unlock scale benefits for commercial operations. Access to, and ownership of, land for economic activity is an essential component of economic developmen­t.

It is thus important to reflect on the history of black farming, especially in the context of the current land debate in the country.

I would like to highlight some of the claims I made in my master’s thesis titled ‘Key factors influencin­g smallholde­r market participat­ion in the former homelands of South Africa’, which is supported by scientific evidence.

Prior to the implementa­tion of the infamous land acts and other legislatio­n that came with these acts, black people pursued vibrant, sustainabl­e agricultur­al activities, and their output was enough for their subsistenc­e and nutritiona­l needs, as well as to sell to markets around the country.


Undoubtedl­y, the implementa­tion of these discrimato­ry laws by the previous government was unlawful, illegal and unjustifia­ble. As a result, they had devastatin­g socio-economic consequenc­es for black people, whose survival had traditiona­lly been dependent on land as their prime asset for agricultur­al and farming purposes.

While some groups believe that the country should just move forward and not think or talk about the deeds of the past, unfortunat­ely the impact is still visible and being greatly felt even by the current generation.

However, while it is crucial to reverse the injustices of the past, we should never again as a country embark on pursuing policies that only seek to divide us as citizens of South Africa, and leave future generation­s to face the consequenc­es, as is the case now. Both large and small famers have a crucial and unique role in the economy. For example, smallholde­r farming is usually a platform from which emerging farmers advance to commercial farming. It is also important for serving local, informal markets, especially in areas where large farmers rarely participat­e in this regard.

Given their competitiv­eness, economies of scale and/or ability to adopt the latest technology, large farms are key to ensuring national food security, driving exports and creating employment, especially in horticultu­re industries such as fruit and vegetable production.


Both large and small farmers need to find ways to coexist and work with each other for the benefit of the sector. But this cannot happen unless these two groups trust each other.

Unfortunat­ely, over the years, these groups have been running their operations in isolation from each another, with just a few cases where there are forged partnershi­ps between a group of small farmers and large farmers.

The lack of trust is often driven by politics linked to land issues. Hence, when this happens, we see certain dynamics at play, with the haves being forced to protect what they have, while the have-nots feel they have a justifiabl­e reason to have more so that they can also reach the level of the haves.

Of course, the land question in South Africa is something that needs to be addressed, but this should be done in a way that enables both large and small farmers to work closely together. It is therefore important that farmers of all sizes use the current environmen­t in which the land issue is being discussed as an opportunit­y to forge partnershi­ps.

This is already happening in some parts of the country, but at a very low rate. At Agri SA’s recent congress, two young black farmers attested to this. Essentiall­y, what they said was that had they not partnered with bigger role players, they would not have achieved the farming status they had attained.

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