Strategies to foster youth understanding of the importance of sustaining land activities or new landowners and looking at opportunities for job creation

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Land Reform: In the backdrop of a sluggish economy that does not create enough jobs for a growing number of unemployed youth, government and the private sector need to work in concert to develop and implement strategies that are anchored around harnessing the land reform programme to generate employment opportunities.

The recent statistics released by Stats SA show that over 60% of young people are without a job in South Africa. It is no wonder that it is mainly black youth and women, the sector of the population that is landless, who bear the brunt of unemployment and poverty.

Calls for the expropriation of land without compensation offer a glimmer of hope to these young people, many of whom have abandoned any effort to seek employment out of despair.

While there is unanimity that the willing buyer willing seller model hasn’t borne the expected results to accelerate land reform and restitution, it is generally agreed that the redistribution of land can be a catalyst that can alleviate youth unemployment, foster entrepreneurship and revive the ailing rural economies.

According to Peter Setou, Chief Executive of the Vumelana Advisory Fund, an equally enough focus should be dedicated to developing practical models of supporting beneficiary communities to enable them to use the land productively and in a sustainable manner.

“The formation of small-scale farming co-operatives is one of the feasible avenues that can be explored for creating employment in peri-urban and rural areas. Co-operatives have a long history in South Africa and this model has a proven track record of being a sustainable source of income and food security. However, small scale farming requires support in the form of capital, irrigation support, facilitating the private ownership of land, skills development, access to farming implements and markets to sell produce,” says Peter Setou, Chief Executive Officer of Vumelana Advisory Fund.

 Setou points out that the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a blow to small scale farmers who have the least resources to mitigate against the far-reaching impact of the nationwide lockdown.

Citing the findings of a study by BeyonciCOVID Business Surveym, Setou says the future prospects of the country’s small and micro-farming community looks bleak as only 13% of the country’s up-and-coming farmers have managed to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.

The study found that while 63% of commercial-scale farmers are back to their pre-pandemic operational levels, only 13% of South Africa’s up-and-coming farmers have managed to bounce back.

The study further found that the hard lockdown deprived small scale farmers of their primary market and source of revenue, which is mainly source of revenue sidewalk food stalls, fresh produce markets, corner shops, other SMMEs and NGOs which were compelled to close shop during the hard lockdown.

"Many beneficiary communities who do small scale farming lack the financial resources to offset the impact of Covid-19, and they don’t have the requisite capital to venture into commercial farming. Small scale production has served as an entry point for many communities into field of agriculture and food production. Denying these small scale the support they require to become sustainable and scale up their operations will sound a death-knell to emerging farmers, which in turn undermines the land reform programme,:” says Setou.

He adds that he is encouraged by the R1.2 billion COVID-19 disaster fund intervention that the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development announced last year to assist small-scale farmers.

Setou points out that small scale farmers have a critically important role to play to meet the evolving future food demands of a growing and increasingly rich and urbanised population.

Citing the findings of research group Springer Link, Setou says more than 80% (475 million) of the world’s farms operate on less than two hectares of land and although these farms account for only 12% of the world’s farmland, they provide an estimated 80% of the food produced in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Small scale farmers play a key role in the food security equation and their contribution to the rural economy is without a doubt immense. In the South African context where women and young people bear the brunt of poverty and unemployment, small scale farming can be catalyst that can drive job creation and entrepreneurship opportunities our country solely needs,” says Setou.

The Vumelana Advisory Services Fund is of the view that  in addition to government support, a number of barriers needs to be removed in order for small scale farming to gain traction. Lack of state support was highlighted as a major impediment for productive small–scale farming, particularly in a province like Limpopo which has a chronic problem of erratic climatic conditions and water scarcity.

According to Setou, there is a need to implement area–based planning and match the available land to the needs of the youth. “This requires local municipalities to play a lead role and integrate land reform into the Integrated Development Plans (IDP). Beneficiary selection committees are key in ensuring a youth–driven participatory and consultative land redistribution programmes for small scale farming to become sustainable,” he says.

Developmental agency Rethink Africa has done a lot of work in exploring how the financial services sector and the private sector should be responding to the challenge of savings and wealth amongst ordinary South Africans, in particular the poor, black majority.

Working in partnership with Ekurhuleni Environmental Organisation, the agency initiated a community-based programme programme called Sebenza Umhlaba Campaign (meaning "work the land" in isiZulu) aimed at raising awareness and education about climate change and hunger and fostering the participation of community members, including youth in leveraging the potential of land as an income generating resource.

At the heart of this campaign was imparting local farming skills and showcasing how working the land productively can help to fight hunger and to mitigate the negative impact of climate change.

“Through these programmes we have been able to impart much-needed skills to young people to enable them to make a sustainable living. Moreover, we have managed to show tangible benefits of how the land can be used in a sustainable manner to address some of the pressing socio-economic challenges facing our country,” says Nompumelelo Melaphi, Director of Rethink Africa.

Former president Thabo Mbeki wrote a 15-page document in which he cautioned the ruling party on calling for land expropriation without compensation, saying it would lead to a “very serious disincentive to investment which our country cannot afford".

Vumelana Advisory Fund has always maintained that the increasing and highly politically charged calls for land expropriation are not doing much to attract private sector investors who have the skills and funding required to assist beneficiary communities to turn their land into commercially viable assets that can revalitise the rural economy, foster entrepreneurship and generate much-needed employment opportunities.

Vumelana Advisory Fund is of the vie that the private sector needs to see itself as an important role player that can either ensure the success of the land reform programme through engagement with all the relevant stakeholders and availing its expertise. Working with beneficiary communities, the private sector has an opportunity to forge joint ventures and initiate commercially viable initiatives by empowering these communities with much-needed expertise such as access to infrastructure, to agronomic inputs, to technology and technical expertise, to capital and to markets.