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Tuesday Apr 07, 2015

Lack of title deeds hinders shifting maize belt

A lack of title deeds in the Eastern Cape was hindering a plan to move the maize belt west as coal mines took over some of the best land for crops, South Africa's biggest grain lobby said last week.

About 46 percent of the best agricultural land is in Mpumalanga, 12 percent of which is unsuitable due to mining.

South Africa, the world's biggest white maize producer after Mexico, wanted to raise annual output in the Eastern Cape ninefold to 1 million tons by 2018 as coal mining rendered land unsuitable for farming in Mpumalanga, the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy said in a report.

Mpumalanga, which usually ranks second to the Free State for maize output, is also the province where about 80 percent of the nation's coal is mined.

The Eastern Cape is the second-smallest producer of the nine provinces, contributing less than 1 percent to last year's harvest. "We're losing a lot of good agricultural land, the best, in Mpumalanga because of the coal mines," Jannie de Villiers, the chief executive of Grain SA, said.

New farmers in the Eastern Cape are struggling to access finance because they do not hold title deeds to swathes of communal land that belongs to local ethnic groups. The province was the least economically developed, the SA Institute of Race Relations said in a January report.

Newcomers to farming in the Eastern Cape "are doing it well, but they're doing it on small pieces of commercial land and they cannot expand because they don't have the finance", De Villiers said. "It is communal land - there's no tenure, no security, no loans."

About 46 percent of South Africa's best agricultural land, or fertile soils, is found in Mpumalanga, 12 percent of which will be unsuitable for farming due to mining, the report showed. The usability of another 14 percent of the bestquality land was under threat because of prospecting, it said.

Communal land rights had been exercised for centuries by traditional communities in rural areas, where more than a third of the country's 54 million people resided, Gerrit Pienaar, a law professor at the North West University, wrote in the October 2013 edition of the journal of the Helen Suzman Foundation.

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