Rethinking land use

Small scale farming is not always the answer in semi arid regions

It is time for Africa to think differently about land tenure and food security. Personally I don’t like the idea of countries from other continents buying up our land and exploiting our resources without a direct benefit to us – as has happened so often in the past. 

But I think it is time for Africa to cross its borders and start helping its countries to develop their full potential. Let every country find its “niche” and together help to push this continent into a new era.

For example, many South African farmers are currently in a fix because of poor results with land reform. Ninety percent of the land reform projects in this country have failed. Recent talks of nationalisation have sparked fears of land expropriation – as happened in Zimbabwe.

South African farmers however have an excellent reputation: They have been able to remain globally competitive in spite of little import protection and support from government. Many countries have recognised this and approached these farmers to go and farm in their countries.

Congo Brassaville is one such country. More than half of this country’s population has been wiped out by HIV/Aids and more than 90% of this country’s food is imported – mostly from France. Last year, an organisation representing farmers in South Africa (AgriSA) found that most of the imported food is of poor quality and often past its sell-by date. Tomatoes at the time sold for 10 Euros per kilogram, while beef sold for 19 Euros per kilogram.

No chicken, dairy or eggs are produced in the country. There are around 10 000 cattle (of which the locals are afraid), and 30 000 sheep and goats respectively. Most of the cassava (which forms the staple) and bananas grow wild. The Congo government offered almost 140 000ha of land in the Niarri valley with very favourable terms to South African farmers. In return the government said it wanted to be food secure within five years and ask the South African government to help restore rail infrastructure.  These negotiations have since been placed on hold as the country is currently in a political transition period.

I recently talked to Zambians who told me that many farmers that have been displaced in Zimbabwe are now farming next to the lower Zambezi in an area where none of the Zambians wanted to farm because they didn’t think the land was suitable for agriculture. These farmers are getting excellent yields and their endeavours have created new job opportunities for Zambians.

It is true that small-scale farming is often the solution to poverty reduction in many areas. But we must not lose focus of the agricultural potential of land. Many areas in Africa are semi-desert and only suitable for extensive farming. Putting people on every half-a-hectare to farm with animals would significantly degradate these highly sensitive areas.

On the whole however we as Africans should stop blaming other continents for taking advantage of us. Instead we must spend our efforts on ensuring that we have good policies that protect our resources and eliminate corruption.  –Glenneis Kriel

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