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November 03, 2011

South Africa’s ever-shrinking number of commercial farmers

by Melanie Gosling and Yusuf Moolla

The number of commercial farmers in South Africa is set to drop from 40 000 to 15 000 over the next 15 years.

Organised agriculture has said that without enough viable commercial farms, South Africa’s food security is endangered. The loss of farmers would also lead to the loss of jobs in the rural areas, where commercial agriculture is the only significant employer.

Ernst Janovsky, head of Absa AgriBusiness, said that in 1980 there had been around 128 000 commercial farmers, which had dropped to 58 000 in 1997 and to just under 40 000 today. Predictions were that this would drop to 15 000 in the next 15 years.

South Africa, which used to export more food than it imported, became a net importer of food from 2007. Organised agriculture has said the reason for the decline in South African agriculture is twofold: the input costs of farming are rising faster than output; and there is a high level of uncertainty around government policies affecting agriculture.

“This is not about government-bashing. We are not fighting the government. This is about saying: ‘Just let us know what the policies are, what the rules are, and let’s go forward’,” Janovsky said.

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union CEO Sandy la Marque said there had been a strong decline of small and commercial farmers in the province. She said one of the main reasons was the insecurity of tenure and the countless land claims that had not been resolved. “If people do not know the status of the land, they will not invest.”

La Marque said another concern was the massive number of stock theft cases in the province. “KZN has one of the highest number of stock theft, with losses going into the millions.”


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