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Farmers’ skills development as crucial as restitution target
Tue, 17 Oct 2006 21:00
Government is fast-tracking its land restitution programme to meet the 2008 deadline to settle outstanding restitution claims, but developing the agricultural skills of new owners is just as crucial, writes Oupa Segalwe.
The Mamohlola Farm nestled in the green pastures of Lesitele Valley in Tzaneen, in northern Limpopo is rich with orchards that live up to the province’s pseudonym “Africa’s Eden.”
With its prospering crops of bananas, mangoes, litchis, oranges and much more, it is difficult to believe that just five years ago all the crops on the farm had failed, making the future seem very bleak for the community newly restored to the land.
The 3 566-hectare land was handed back to the Letsoalo community in 2001 by the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights (CRLR), 44 years after they were forcefully dispossessed.
When the community moved back, they found the land rich with orchards bearing about 326ha of mango, 130ha of bananas, 87ha of litchi, 55ha of avocado, 36ha of citrus and other crops.
However due to a lack of the necessary expertise, the project was not properly managed and as a result, the crops were destroyed and the irrigation system was exhausted, leading to the collapse of the once prosperous farm.
An assessment was conducted on the farm after the disaster, which revealed amongst others, that the soil had not been fertilized and that there was also no weed or pest control.
“The community had appointed a committee to manage the farm of its behalf but inexperience counted against us as the once rich fields became worthless,” said Abel Letsoalo.
Mr Letsoalo, a 61-year-old senior member of the Letsoalo community and a representative of the beneficiaries of the restitution, has witnessed all the developments in his community’s land since the forced removal, which took place when he was in his teens.
“They drove us away in their bakkies, relocating us to Metz where we still live to this day. They took our livestock in the process and our people were very hurt.
“Some fled the area to resettle in areas like Hammanskraal near Pretoria, while some went to Ga-Mamabolo here in Limpopo,” said Mr Letsoalo, who still vividly recalls the sad events of 1958, which affected over 1 500 families.
The descendents and survivors from that period were jubilant when the land was restored to them and equally disappointed when their first crops failed. It was at this point that they realized outside help was needed.
“That’s when we called for government’s intervention and looking back, that was the wisest decision we have ever had to take as the community,” Mr Letsoalo indicated.
Government’s intervention saw strategic partners and farming experts SA Farms Management (SAFM) being appointed to redevelop the farm in 2004 on a 45/55 percent shareholding basis, with the community holding the majority shares.
The SAFM signed a 10 year contract with the provincial agriculture department, committing to offer training and to develop skills to the beneficiaries.
This would enable the community to solely manage the farm when the agreement lapses in 2014.
The provincial agriculture department and the CRLR in the province contributed about R4,7 million and R2, 1 million respectively, while SAFM invested about R10 million into the project.
A banana plantation about 158ha large has since been redeveloped as have all the other crops previously cultivated there. A new irrigation system has also been installed since the considerable funds were ploughed into the project.
In this year alone, about 75 percent of citrus from the project was exported and bananas from the plantation were distributed to national markets.
Mr Letsoalo said the community was optimistic about the project and looked forward to acquiring all the much-needed farming skills by the end of the contract.
He said the community decided to remain in the areas they had been living in since the forced removal, opting to use the Mamohlola fields for business only.
The community, however, is yet to receive profits from the venture as the CRLR is still verifying as to how many “real” beneficiaries are lawfully entitled to the land and proceeds.
Briefing the media in Pretoria recently on her accomplishments after 100 days in office, Land Affairs and Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana emphasized the need for strategic partnerships in cases where new owners lack the required skills.
“New owners face problems of resources and skills in terms of making these farms productive and efficient.
“We have now come up with a strategy where we bring in companies and stakeholders who have experience and expertise.
“They from joint ventures with the local communities, training them and transferring skills,” Ms Xingwana said.
The Minister added that previous owners of land who were prepared to help transfer skills to new owners were also crucial partners in this regard.
“There is a case in Kwa-Zulu Natal where a previous owner had an agreement with new owners to help them keep the land productive, since he had the experience and the expertise,” said the minister.
“The farmer entered into a 10-year agreement with the community. The community appointed a committee that works closely with the farmer to learn from him (thus gaining) financial management and business skills to run the enterprise successfully.”
It is expected that when the contract expires, the community will be able to stand on its own feet and run the farm independently.
During a recent land hand over ceremony in Brits in the North West, the provincial MEC for Agriculture, Conservation and Environment Mandlenkosi Mayisela told BuaNews that his department was building relationships with previous land owners for skills transfer.
"All we have to do now is keep nurturing these relations in order to ensure that the beneficiaries are empowered and the land remains economically productive," Mr Mayisela said.
Chief Land Claims Commissioner Tozi Gwanya told this publication that the commission was aware of the shortage of skills among the beneficiaries of the restitution programme.
Mr Gwanya said settlement support units within the CRLR were continuously looking for more efficient solutions and were engaging other private and public partners to come aboard and support new owners to use their land optimally.
“The Commission, through its settlements support units, facilitates the appointment of service providers to conduct skills development projects for some of the new land owners.
“We also encourage the willing former landowners to work with communities, sharing skills. We also ensure that all strategic partnerships include skills training ranging from finance to operations management,” Mr Gwanya said.