The changing nature of large-scale commercial farming & implications for agrarian reform: evidence from Limpopo, Western Cape and Northern Cape
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The privileged position of white commercial farmers in South Africa came to an end by the early 1990s, when political and policy changes removed the certainty provided by controlled marketing, protective tariffs and weak legislation regulating resource use and labour relations on farms and transformed agriculture into a sector that is highly sensitive to events on world markets. Despite their dwindling numbers and disarticulation from political power commercial farmers represent a dominant group in the countryside, retaining a near monopoly of resources and considerable power. Yet, the dynamics of change in the sector are not properly understood or well-researched. This paper presents data from a recent survey of 141 commercial farmers in the Limpopo, Western and Northern Cape Provinces that shows that they consider input costs, climate, labour matters, uncertainty about government policies and producer prices as the major pressures bearing down upon them. The adoption of farming methods which are less labour-intensive and the extension of labour legislation and minimum wages to farm workers, together have led to the decline of on-farm employment. Declining profit margins have resulted in a ‘shake-out’ in which only the most competitive enterprises can survive, leading to increased concentration in agricultural landholding and production. These processes imply that new entrants to agriculture with limited capital face daunting challenges, which policy needs to address. The paper explores these wider implications.