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April 07, 2009

South African province's land reform farms mired in debt

by Sipho Masondo

More land reform farms in the Eastern Cape (South Africa) have failed due to infighting and lack of capital and skills. Several weeks ago it was reported that several farms in the Addo area had failed and were auctioned off, and a new investigation has highlighted problems in the Gamtoos valley area.

The aim of land reform is to transfer 30 per cent of agricultural land to the previously disadvantaged over the next 15 years. This is done by grouping people together and giving then grants to purchase farms.

In the Cacadu region alone 90000ha of land has been distributed to more than 12000 beneficiaries at a cost of more than R370-million.

The latest farms to run into problems include:

In the Uitenhage area last year 22 beneficiaries auctioned their 674ha farm for about R1,1-million because they couldn‘t continue farming any more. The group owed the Land Bank about R400000, which with interest had escalated to about R600000.

Another set of 12 beneficiaries, the Hlanganani Trust from Motherwell, sold off its farm of 70ha for about R650000 in 2007 to a white farmer.

In Hankey the Peter Family Trust, with 10 beneficiaries, were last month rescued by the South African Fruit Exporters after the Land Bank threatened to auction the farm to recoup money it had loaned them in 2000. This was the second time the Land Bank had threatened to auction the farm.

The 36ha farm has no electricity or farming implements, and citrus trees are dying.

The 42 Dankbaar Farm beneficiaries in Hankey are having similar problems. Workers haven‘t been paid since January. There is no electricity on the 256ha farm, meaning citrus trees cannot be watered. Beneficiaries have accused each other of misappropriating funds. White farmers in the area are said to have expressed interest in buying the farm.

In Patensie a group of 200 beneficiaries have leased out 35ha of their 300ha farm to a white farmer to prevent the farm from going under. In 2006 Patensie Citrus rescued the group when the land bank threatened to auction the farm because of a R1,2-million loan it couldn‘t service.

David Uithaler, leader of 22 beneficiaries from Uitenhage of a farm which was auctioned, said: “I stayed at the farm for four years but I couldn‘t cope. We didn‘t have money to take the farm forward. We are very anxious to get farms, but you must have money to run them. My purpose was to produce food to feed the country, but if you don‘t have money you can‘t live up to the idea.”

Hazel Peter of the Peter Family Trust said they had decided to go into a joint venture with the South African Fruit Exporters which has promised to revive the farm and bring it to production.

But this will be at the expense of dividends in the next two years.

“We just want our farm to be saved,” she said, adding that the were also conflicts between the beneficiaries.

A land affairs department official said he would have liked to see more success with land reform. “It‘s not doing well. We need more support for these projects. We distribute land but we also try to help with technical skills and this is not our responsibility, but that of the department of agriculture.”

Department of agriculture spokesman Fikile Black said emerging farmers should approach the district offices and request assistance, which was subject to the availability of funds.

“We also have extension officers who assist farmers with skills.”

Uitenhage

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