Agricultural land

Farming industry wants a data system of identifying land available for sale

The agriculture & land affairs department must acquire 30% of agricultural land by 2014. So far, it has spent R2,6bn on 3,5m hectares, but this constitutes only 4% of the target.

Land claims commissioner Tozi Gwanya has indicated his department will be using the expropriation law as part of the solution.

But stakeholders in the farming industry say the law should be used as a last resort; that a data system of identifying land for sale must be created.

AgriSA legal adviser Annelise Crosby says the organisation doesn't see expropriation as a quick fix to land reform in SA. "Government may end up paying more than what land fetches on the open market if it uses this law.

"The administrative process still has to be considered, and farmers will use their recourse to go to court. Compensation should be fair, and farm owners should be given a fair opportunity to state their case."

Crosby says the concept of expropriation is still not properly understood. "Some farmers are uneasy and view it as a land grab. "

She says there must be clarity as to why a farm has been earmarked for expropriation: whether it is being used for restitution or land reform.

"It is of no use to transfer land to someone who cannot use it," says Crosby. "There must be a sustainable support system for the new farm owners to keep the farm productive."

The National African Farmers Union (Nafu), which represents an estimated 40 000 black farmers, says it understands the pressure to deliver, but that other issues should be considered.

Nafu CE Molefe Mokoena says the union has been working closely with its counterparts - at AgriSA, for instance - on the transfer of skills in the farming sector, and that this has proven effective.

He adds that government should be more proactive and consider bulk-buying of land to prevent rising costs.

"We need more state intervention in the acquisition process," says Mokoena. "If the trend of rising prices continues, black people will forever be excluded from the sector. Government must stock up on land and ensure that prices do not become inflated - and then use it for redistribution."

Dr Johan Willemse, head economist in the University of the Free State's agriculture department, says areas that have higher numbers of land claims - northern KwaZulu Natal, the Lowveld and Limpopo - have seen a drop in prices.

Willemse says the biggest problem in farm land is not the price of the land but ensuring productivity and establishing proper administrative programmes to train new farmers. The land mustn't be allowed to go to waste, as has been the case in the past.

Gwanya says his department is looking into influencing market prices. It is feeling the pinch of rising prices because it was paying as little as R800 /ha.

"As the biggest buyer of land, we cannot wait for the market to go down," says Mokoena "We must try to influence it and we are looking at more commercially viable ways to buy land.

"If we could buy cheaper at auction, for instance, it would help, but that is not always possible. We will only use the law as prescribed in the constitution when all other avenues have been exhausted."

Article by: Xolile Bhengu - http://free.financialmail.co.za