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Monday May 11, 2015

Nkwinti: plan for ceiling on farm sizes

The government's target of 30 percent of white-owned farmland to be redistributed by last year was never its final goal and he would pursue "redistribution forever if needs be", Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said yesterday.

He was responding to a furious reaction to his budget policy speech from FF+ MP Pieter Groenewald, who had accused him of breaking a promise to consult farmers further before implementing new land reform proposals.

This was after Nkwinti announced plans for a three-tier ceiling on farm sizes - 1 000 hectares for viable smallscale farms, 2 500ha for medium scale and 5 000ha for large scale - following President Jacob Zuma's reference to a 12 000ha land cap during his State of the Nation Address in February.

Groenewald said Zuma had made pronouncements on the proposed 50/50 equity scheme to give workers a stake in farms they lived on before farmers had been consulted further, as Nkwinti had promised they would be.

Land reform had failed, yet the government carried on regardless and was now talking of expropriating land owned by farmers in excess of the ceilings announced by Nkwinti.

The upshot was that the government had dropped its 30 percent target, Groenewald said. But Nkwinti hit back during a press conference after his speech, saying the FF+ MP and white farmers had believed once the 30 percent target had been achieved, "that would be it and the rest would remain with them".

"It's not going to happen," Nkwinti said, "he was making a big mistake. I'm pursuing a programme of redistribution forever, if needs be."

The minister has previously admitted that total land redistributed to black farmers falls far short of 30 percent, adding up to just 8 percent of formerly white-owned land.

Critics have queried how this can be significantly improved on in light of the department's limited budget for land reform - R8.63 billion over the next three years - compared with an estimated total value of agricultural assets of more than R300bn.

Nkwinti said in his speech that land exceeding the ceilings for ownership would be expropriated and compensation made on the "just and equitable basis" contained in the constitution.

But Professor Ben Cousins, research chair in poverty, land and agrarian studies at the University of the Western Cape, said the ceilings made no sense.

There was no minimum size for categories to determine which a farm should fit into if it fell between them.

For example, if a farm was 1 500ha - bigger than the 1 000ha for a small-scale farm - it was unclear whether it should be considered a medium-scale farm or an oversized small-scale farm.

He said the grounds for determining farm viability were "impossibly difficult to assess" because there are too many variables to compute, whose values tend to shift continually.

"Within both commercial and small-scale farming sectors, there is a wide range of scales of operation and agricultural incomes, and thus immensely variable estimates of viability," Cousins said.

International experience showed the setting of land ceilings made little impact, partly because landowners evaded the restrictions, for example by family members taking ownership of different units of land.

The Independent on Saturday


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