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October 17, 2010

South Africa's land reforms threaten competitiveness, says minister

South Africa risks losing its status as Africa's agriculture hub as uncertainty over its land reform programme undermines its competitiveness on the continent, the deputy agriculture minister said.

After the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa's government set a target of handing over 30 percent of commercial farmland to blacks by 2014 as part of a plan to correct racial imbalances in land distribution.

The programme has caused unease and slowed investment in the agricultural sector as white commercial farmers are unsure whether to reinvest in farms under claim by black farmers.

"Uncertainty about land reform and the current South African debates about nationalisation do not help to make South Africa more competitive than (other) African states," Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Deputy Minister Pieter Mulder said in a statement.

He added: "Let us learn from the mistakes which other African states had made...and let us not repeat them."

Land reform is a sensitive issue in South Africa and has been brought into focus by the decline in agriculture in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where white commercial farmers were often evicted violently by President Robert Mugabe's government.

A new South Africa draft land policy proposes limits to land ownership by its own citizens and foreigners.

Mulder said that other African countries with above-average rainfall, better land quality and warmer climates, had more agricultural potential than South Africa and could soon rob the biggest economy on the continent of its leading position.

"It has already been proven this year in the field of grain production in that countries such as Zambia and Malawi, who traditionally had been importers of South African grain, will be self-sufficient this year," Mulder said.

South Africa, a major maize exporter for the past two years, has this year seen a decline in maize exports due to lower demand from its traditional markets, mainly within the region.

Most southern African countries are expected to record big maize harvests this year and plan to export the surplus.

South Africa was expecting its largest crop of the grain since the record 14.42 million tonnes in the 1981/82 season.


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