Land: How black and white can make it work

A call to share resources and "care for each other" was central to a "historic" two-day summit to find solutions to the country’s burning land question last week.

On Thursday and Friday, established white commercial farmers and emerging black farmers gathered at Zwartkloof Private Game Reserve in Bela-Bela, Limpopo, to share ideas and discuss successes and failures of different farming models in order to find solutions to the land question.

The conference, organised by the magazine Landbouweekblad and Agri SA, a federation of agricultural organisations, was held amid concerns that the proposed government policy to expropriate land without compensation has divided the country.

Speakers from different backgrounds, genders and racial groups hailed partnerships between white commercial farmers, emerging black farmers and communities as a successful model that could take the country forward.

Others criticised government and commercial banks for not supporting emerging black farmers with funding to make it in the market.

Success stories

Some of the summit’s highlights were the stories of success shared by young emerging black farmers, who partnered with and were mentored by established white commercial farmers.

Among them was Leonard Muvhungu (40), who has made a career out of dairy farming. Born in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, Muvhungu studied animal production at the Tshwane University of Technology and moved to the Eastern Cape in 2005 after completing his training.

Through a recruitment agency he joined Amadlelo Agri, which was established in 2004 by 70 commercial dairy farmers from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Amadlelo’s first project was the Fort Hare Dairy Trust, which it established in 2007 with the University of Fort Hare, and Muvhungu managed the modern profit-based farm from the beginning. He now manages three farms of 1 000ha each with 3 500 cattle on them.

Muvhungu has been mentored by Amadlelo chief executive Jeff Every, who at the summit urged his fellow established white commercial farmers to reach out to help emerging black farmers.

"How about sharing and caring? This is what this country needs right now," he said.

Cattle investment

Muvhungu also mentors students interested in farming. He told City Press that he made a decision to be a farmer and had his own business of leasing his 200 cows to established white commercial dairy farmers. He said his dairy cattle investment was "far better than putting money into investment schemes".

"It performs better than property. What more do you want? We need to change the mentality of people."

Muvhungu said young black people needed to change the way they viewed wealth and understand that it was not about having money in the bank, but assets.

Asked what he would do to deal with the land question if he were the president, he said he would "listen to people and look at working models, including that of Amadlelo Agri and other partnerships" that established white commercial farmers, emerging black farmers and communities have undertaken.

He said there was a need to make farming attractive in the rural areas to stop the exodus of young black people flocking to urban areas looking for jobs.

"We cannot blame young people for going to urban areas. They need to make a living. They see life in town. That’s why we need to develop rural areas to become ‘gold mines’," he said.

"But the problem first is to make young people understand how money works. Right now we work for money to work for us. We need to create businesses. Get a job, learn, make money, start a business and let the money work for you."

Partnerships

At the summit, established white commercial farmers said they and others were willing to help mentor emerging black farmers so they could become involved in the value chain – which entails introducing them to suppliers and markets – and help them make profits.

But others said there were still established white commercial farmers who were reluctant to help their black counterparts by directly investing in their farms, because of the risks and the uncertainty they face.

Muvhungu said government should look at ways of incentivising established white commercial farmers to partner with emerging black farmers and communities. He said he had never experienced racism while working with whites, but some black farmers saw him as a "traitor who spies for the white men".

"Black people need to understand that they have what it takes. [The involvement of white people] is not about leadership and control. That’s an insult," he said.

"We can do it. We are the same. We have common sense like everyone. We have brains. There are tools that we can use. What more do we want?"

Nick Serfontein, chairman of the Sernick Group, who wrote an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa last month asking him to send commercial farmers to support emerging black farmers, said government needed to completely restructure the agriculture sector and create an enabling environment for established white commercial farmers to assist others.

Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director-general Mike Mlengana said the summit was a "historic event" that came at the right time, a time when the country was battling with the land question.

He committed his department to involving established white commercial farmers in every programme to ensure that their skills and expertise were used.