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Wednesday Mar 25, 2015

Grain farmers want land plan cap scrapped

The proposal to cap the amount of land deeds an individual might hold would affect food production and the government should consider alternative ways to remedy racial inequality in ownership, the biggest grains lobby said.

President Jacob Zuma in February introduced the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill as a way to redress economic disparities between whites and blacks that were created under apartheid rule. It proposes to limit the area of land anyone can hold to 12 000 hectares, or two title deeds. Excess land will be bought and redistributed and the limit will be applied retrospectively.

Farmers in South Africa, the continent's biggest maize producer, were concerned about the proposed backward-looking limit on title deeds, because some create their areas under cultivation by collating as many as 10 smaller deeds, Grain SA chief executive Jannie de Villiers said last week.

Very few grain farmers would exceed holdings of 12 000 hectares, he said.

"If they are going to have a cut-off on something like that, it's going to be unmanageable in terms of producing food for the country," he said.

Having a monetary threshold, where farmers with turnover exceeding a certain amount can only expand through collaboration with newcomers, "is a lot more practical – you're going to maintain production. A joint venture has got a better chance than a new guy starting fresh with no experience."

The ANC had been struggling to reassure the country's majority black population of economic redress, with land a critical factor to resolve when addressing South Africa's past wrongs, Zuma said in February.

The party has been under pressure since winning a reduced majority of 62.2 percent in the elections last year.

The Agri-sector Unity Forum, which represents the four main growers' associations, would deliver comment and new proposals for the redistribution of land to the government by the end of March, De Villiers said.

Land redistribution should not compromise food production and the cap on land holdings was not "cast in stone" and more debate was needed, Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana said on March 4.

The country is the world's largest fresh-citrus exporter behind Spain and Egypt, data from the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation shows. While South Africa is the sub-Saharan region's biggest producer of wheat after Ethiopia, it is a net importer of the cereal.

The bill "not only caps land ownership, it caps investment and caps job creation", Thomas Walters, the DA spokesman for rural development and land reform, said on Monday.

Effectively, when farms grow beyond the proposed cap, the "government will expropriate them. This will preclude investment across the sector, including in black-owned agri-businesses that have grown beyond a certain point."



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