Thematic study: Agricultural value chains in South Africa and the implications for employment-intensive land reform
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This paper is part of a larger research initiative intended to formulate policy options for land reform in South Africa and facilitate employment and livelihoods through small-scale agriculture. The report examines small-scale farmers and their participation in agricultural value chains, in order to consider how to strengthen and upscale their participation in such value chains. The highly dualistic nature of the agricultural sector in South African is generally well understood (NPC, 2011). South African agriculture has long been dominated by large scale, capital intensive forms of industrial production, whereas small-scale farmers have been marginal for well over half a century. This dualism correlates with racial demography: white commercial farmers dominate large-scale production, while small-scale agricultural production is overwhelmingly the preserve of small-scale black (‘African’) farmers. This agrarian structure reflects South Africa’s colonial and Apartheid legacy of generous state support for white farmers, alongside the historical dispossession of black producers. The predominance of ‘large-scale’ in the agricultural sector moreover extends beyond primary production ‘farming’. Most of the sector, including agro-processing, packaging, distribution, manufacturing and retail, is highly concentrated, capital-intensive and corporate dominated. Small scale farmers in South Africa, as elsewhere, are characterized by small landholdings, varied (but often low) levels of productivity and grapple with the difficulties associated with both production and market access. Yet there has been a global resurgence of interest in small-scale farmer-led agriculture development (World Bank, 2007), which is viewed as a means of promoting rural employment and livelihoods (Vermeulen et al., 2008; Aliber and Hart, 2009; Neves and Du Toit, 2013). In South Africa, small-scale farming offers not only the promise of bolstering rural employment and livelihoods, but also satisfying pressingly social and equity objectives (Aliber and Hall, 2012). Small scale farming has been invoked as part of a vision for an egalitarian and deracialised countryside in South Africa. This sentiment has found expression in post-apartheid public policy, with small-scale farming cast as integral to land reform. Moreover, land reform in South Africa is irreducible to its potential contribution to rural employment and livelihoods. Since its inception land reform has offered promise of addressing the historical grievance of land dispossession, in service of social justice racial redress. In this way, public policy support for small-scale farming is tied to South Africa’s larger, unresolved and fractious ‘land question’. Against this backdrop, the notion of linking or small-scale farmers to markets, and facilitating their participation or ‘inclusion’ into agricultural value chains, or ‘pro-inclusionism’ (Aliber, 2013, p.10) is widely shared by scholars, policy makers and private sector actors. Ambitions for creating employment through labour intensive small-scale farming, and such farmers ‘inclusion’ into agricultural value chains, have found expression in official policy pronouncements, ranging from the Economic Development Department ‘New Growth Plan’ (EDD, 2010), the National Development Plan (NPC, 2011), and AgriBEE (Jacobs, 2012). Enthusiasm amongst policy makers, for the inclusion of small-scale farmers into value chains is not limited to South Africa. It is part of the wider international development orthodoxy (Seville et al., 2011), and predicated on a faith in markets as a route to pro-poor development and economic growth.