Land use and livelihoods
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This paper addresses how land reform can contribute to enhancing land-based livelihoods. South African agriculture is often characterised as being divided into two types: freehold tenure/ commercial agriculture vs. communal tenure/ subsistence agriculture. Subsistence uses of land are generally viewed as wasteful, destructive and economically unproductive in comparison to commercial production systems. It is not surprising therefore that land redistribution programmes which transfer land to subsistence producers are often viewed with disdain. Such views inform recent land reform policy shifts aimed at enhancing ‘commercial’ agricultural production for the market rather than subsistence production. There is also an emphasis on ‘full-time’ farming on larger portions of land to generate substantial agricultural incomes. These dualistic stereotypes are inappropriate and misleading. This dualism ignores the many cases where small-scale producers in communal areas are currently involved in production for the market (along with self-provisioning) as well as the more numerous historical examples of such involvement. We also challenge the characterisation of subsistence land uses as ‘wasteful, destructive and economically unproductive’. There is considerable evidence that land-based livelihoods have been significantly undervalued. This is not to say that there is no room for improvement. Most poor rural households encounter considerable constraints to production that limit their land-based livelihoods to a survivalist mode. The challenge for South Africa’s land and agrarian reform programme is to alleviate the constraints to production and, in so doing, to enhance land-based livelihoods amongst the poor majority beyond the survivalist mode and to facilitate commercial production for the market amongst the elite. This dualistic characterisation of South African agriculture should be replaced by a ‘continuum of farmers’ approach that recognises and supports a broad range of large and small-scale, full-time and part-time, as well as commercial, peasant and subsistence farmers. To justify the need for this ‘continuum of farmers’ approach, this paper highlights the wide variety of productive uses of land and natural resources amongst residents of communal areas and land reform beneficiaries, and the significant value of these uses. However, we also draw attention to the constraints to land-based livelihoods in general and amongst land reform beneficiaries in particular. The lack of land is one of these constraints but it is not the only one. It is on this basis that we highlight the need for a broader agrarian reform programme aimed at alleviating these constraints.