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May 23, 2011

South African farmer donates 10% of land to workers

 by Ayanda Mdluli

In what might well be a blueprint for black economic empowerment in farming, Colin Forbes, an Amsterdam, Mpumalanga-based farmer, has given away 550 hectares of his prime land to workers who have served the farm over four generations.

Forbes of Forbes Athole farm, who has voluntarily signed off 10 percent of his farm in the empowerment gesture, said: “This is a show of goodwill and success. I am not getting a salary from government, but if they want to assist financially then a lion’s share of the proceeds will go to the workers.”

His plan is that the workers, being something of experts on farming already, be involved in the production and business model, which would make both parties more motivated and efficient. That would ensure success. However, if the plan fails then both parties stand to lose. “We cannot let this fail,” Forbes said.

A farming committee has been democratically elected to oversee the transaction. They will also look at ways to ensure that the land is used to empower the workers.

“This is a straight forward donation; the land is a viable farming unit, which can be used for agricultural production and grazing.”

The donation consists of housing, as well as a mentoring process that will assist the workers in becoming successful commercial farmers.

He said his aim was to train the people to be commercially oriented, and believed that if white commercial farmers were not willing to be involved in empowerment initiatives to solve the land reform problem in South Africa, then they should be expropriated.

Forbes Athole produces maize, soya beans as well as potatoes in rotation.

The piece of donated land is worth approximately R4.5 million, and more than 50 workers stand to benefit from the deal. The area has a 31ha piece of land, which yields 7.5 to 8 tons of maize a hectare. In addition, there are stands of gum and wattle trees on about 110ha of land.

He said water was in abundance on the property, which provided good grazing for livestock. He added that 40 plots of 0.55ha each had been identified as a residential area. This area was centred around a newly built farm school and adjoined the main road to Amsterdam.

Forbes employs seasonal workers to harvest the potatoes. Close to 85 percent of this farming community is unemployed and most only find work during the three months when potatoes are harvested, most of his employees have lived on his farm and worked for his family for four generations.

“The main emphasis is not to promote subsistence farming,” he said. “My commitment is to tutor and support the development of commercial farmers on the remaining area. My employees have vast experience with farming activities, but have not had exposure to managerial responsibilities. This is where I can transfer skills.”


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