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The contribution of black farmers to food security

More research is needed if confusion is to be avoided when agricultural development policy issues are discussed.
Data suggests that about 40% of cattle in South Africa is owned by emerging and communal black farmers. Picture: Shutterstock

I’ve been getting tweets from folk interested in knowing the share contribution of black farmers to overall agricultural production in South Africa.

The only up-to-date data we have that comes close to responding to this request looks into the separation of key crop production – maize, wheat and so on – into commercial and non-commercial. 

However, it still doesn’t provide a clear-cut answer to the question as it would be unreasonable to assume that all non-commercial farming is done by black farmers. Granted, a large share might be smallholder black farmers, but there are also black farmers who produce commercially.

The most accurate data I have found regarding agricultural production along racial lines is that of the late Dr George Frederick ‘Frikkie’ Liebenberg’s PhD thesis, which has this wonderful table (featured below) showing the relative contribution of black farmers to national production. Unfortunately, Liebenberg’s dataset ends in 2002.

Here are some key points from Liebenberg’s data:

  • The share of farmed (farmed, not to be confused with owned) area by black farmers was 31% in 2002. This area produced less than 4% of field crops such as maize, wheat and sorghum.
  • Similar to other sectors, the share of the country’s livestock held by black farmers had marginally decreased by 2002, particularly sheep and poultry, which were estimated at 10% and 29% respectively. 

While the share contribution by black farmers to agricultural production seems minimal from this data, keep in mind that this was collected 15 years ago. There has definitely been progress in the recent past, driven by both government and the private sector.

The most recent estimates presented by trade economist Sifiso Ntombela of the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) suggest that about 40% of cattle in South Africa is owned by emerging and communal black farmers, and I have highlighted recent progress that has been made in areas such as Matatiele in the Eastern Cape.

Essentially, agricultural economists should in future do a better job of maintaining credible databases of transformation and the progress of black farmers. That way we can avoid confusion when we discuss agricultural development policy issues, which will no doubt need to be addressed in the coming months given our current political and economic climate.

Wandile Sihlobo is an agricultural economist and head of agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) in South Africa. 

This article was originally published on Agricultural Economics Today here.



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Owning 40% of the cattle means nothing. As I understand owning cattle is a sign of wealth in tribal areas like owning a BMW in urban areas. What percentage of the milk and beef production does this 40% supply?

Continent Afrika news reported selling of daughters to get cows. Sold by the rich to get more wife’s. Liberals, worldwide, woman especial, see this as local folklore, world heritage, worth saving.

It is possible that 99% of black citizens do not own agricultural land, but 99% of whites do not own farm land either. So, if we are equal before the law, why are we even having this debate? For generations whites have been migrating to the cities in search of a better lifestyle. White people realized that an employment opportunity and a good salary offers more security. Historically agriculture served as the employment opportunity of last resort. People without better alternatives revert to farming as source of food.

In a modern economy the access to agricultural land offers zero value to the average citizen. As a matter of fact, access to agricultural land offers negative value to those who are not one of the top third of experienced, well-financed commercial farmers who enjoy the economies of scale. The free-market system creates a highly competitive environment that motivates producers to provide the best products to the consumer at the lowest price. This environment is so competitive that the average, and below-average producers, are forced out of production on a continual basis. There is not a singe product that any novice farmer can produce at a competitive price. The price of vegetables or meat at Shoprite is lower than his own cost of production.

Access to agricultural land is the guaranteed road to poverty for the average citizen.

This debate about land reform is a sign that government failed to enable economic growth. If we had an unemployment rate of 5% nobody would even discuss access to land. This debate about land is proof that the policies of the ANC are impoverishing South Africans. All economic policies lead to a distinct outcome. There is no doubt that the policy of land reform will eventually destroy the collateral held by the banking system, forcing the Reserve Bank to recapitalize the system. This will drive the devaluation of the currency and runaway inflation. This will impoverish everybody that does not own assets offshore.

The land debate is not about “social justice”, redistribution or retribution. Any political system that confiscates a productive asset by force, and gives it to an unproductive person is doomed to fail. The land debate is merely a waypoint on the road to slavery and socialism.

Since 2011/12 there’s a handful of SA farmers who relocated/emigrated to Georgia (…referring to the East Europe/Asia country).

I understand in some places the soil quality & rainfall is só good, some reckon they’ll be able to do two crop harvests in a single year.

Will watch this space with interest, as that country’s agri sector needs modern production techniques.

(Georgia. Go and google cities of Tbilisi, Batumi. The country, although still poor in rural areas, is pro-Western, and positives are the ease of doing business; little govt bureaucracy & good transparency, one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, and a low-tax country as well. Low cost of living, even compared to SA. Stunning scenery…be prepared to be blown away. Residency process easier than other countries & VISA free travel for a year, incl. for S’Africans)

End of comments.





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