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Smallholder farmers and land reform in South Africa: ‘radical’ vs ‘realistic’ perspectives

Venue: PLAAS Boardroom
Date: 21 Nov 2018
Time: 13:00 to 15:00

Presenters: Prof Ben Cousins (PLAAS,UWC) & Prof William Beinart (Oxford University)

Two of the authors of recent articles on the role of smallholder farmers in land reform in South Africa will debate key differences between their arguments, and seek to clarify where there is agreement and the bases of their disagreement.
In recent media pieces and a policy brief, Ben Cousins and colleagues have argued that the main beneficiaries of redistributive land reform should be market-oriented smallholder farmers. They suggest an overall target of redistributing 60% of commercial farmland, or 48 million ha, over the next 15 years, with the potential to generate 1.4 million new jobs and livelihood opportunities. Key sub-sectors in which smallholders can be competitive include vegetables, subtropical fruit and nuts, sugar and extensive livestock production.
William Beinart and Peter Delius, responding also in Business Day, argue that agricultural production should be prioritized.  A fast track approach of this kind is likely to have destructive consequences on investment and agricultural production, diminishing food security and rural incomes.  Evidence suggests smallholder production has not been expanding.  A major problem is weak state capacity for land reform and the support of smallholders.  A priority for limited state resources is the completion of the first phase of restitution and effective support for beneficiaries.  Beinart and Delius agree that support for smallholders is a priority, but it should focus on the land already occupied by such farmers in the former homelands and on existing land reform farms. They argue for prioritizing ambitious urban and peri-urban development including smaller towns. The aim is to give certainty to the existing commercial farming economy, which can assist in the growth of smallholder agriculture, and to facilitate gradual deracialisation. They suggest a realistic redistribution target of an additional 4 million ha for smallholders, including innovative pilot projects, over fifteen years.

 Copies of two original papers are available on request.

Links to recent opeds based on these papers:

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