South Africa’s loss of young farmers is reversible

In her PhD study at Stellenbosch University, Dr Kandas Cloete found that up to 20% of farmers in the age group 35 to 45 plan to leave the industry within the next decade.

For Saai as a family farming network, this finding is not a surprise. Family farmers are the most vulnerable sector in the agricultural industry, and many are probably planning to sell their farms and seek refuge elsewhere.

The outcome of Cloete’s study has damning implications for farm villages. Small towns in South Africa rest upon three pillars: a church, a primary school, and a co-operative. All over South Africa, small towns are dying because one of these three pillars started crumbling. Especially farmers between the ages of 30 and 45, who are still young enough to have children in primary school, keep rural towns going. Saai agrees with Dr Cloete’s finding that the destruction of farm villages is driven by deficient financing, poor safety conditions in rural areas, especially on farms, uncertainty about land ownership, and deficient profitability. It is important to note that all these factors are connected to political policies.

Cloete’s study could not have come at a better time. With the Land Bank fallen through the floor, security on farms in a crisis bigger than ever before, and sky-high input costs putting farmers’ profitability under pressure, the ANC is again meddling in land ownership after their failed attempts to amend the constitution.

This trend can be reversed in two ways: Firstly, through dialogue with policymakers, and secondly through resistance and pressure. The latter also includes the establishment of alternative structures and do-it-yourself mechanisms that can make agriculture state resistant. Saai is always willing to discuss matters with policymakers, but discussions have yielded very few results over the past 20 years. Therefore, Saai is actively putting more pressure on the government by creating its own structures and conducting court cases against state institutions.

Substantial progress has already been made with alternative sources for financing as the Land Bank is unlikely to get back on its feet quickly. Farmers must take care of their own safety because they are at the mercy of the state’s inability to guarantee safety in rural areas and on farms. The state’s ability to secure the countryside collapsed years ago when a security vacuum was created by disbanding the commandos.

Saai is constantly discussing the corruption, nepotism, and maladministration in the South African land reform systems with embassies and multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union to put pressure on the government. The profitability of farming can be improved by paying attention to administrative costs such as the additional tax on diesel, toll gates, minimum wages, and the cost of licenses, permits, water and electricity. Corruption is also a form of administrative cost.

Saai believes the situation is reversible because it is the result of bad policies. However, this implies that we need better policies, and it is unlikely that the current government will succeed in formulating better policies.