The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Agrarian  Question 9780796925121

Based on an in-depth analysis of several contrasting agricultural regions, this book aims to assess South Africa's on-going agrarian reform and the country's agrarian dynamics.

The conclusion is without doubt: Twenty years after the first democratic elections, the country's land pattern remains almost unchanged, and primary agriculture and its broader value-chains are more concentrated than ever. Without fundamentally questioning the highly specialised, fossil energy and synthetic input dependent, oligopolistic entrepreneurial agricultural production model, which is presently structuring the sector and is guiding the reforms, a more equitable redistribution of resources and value-addition will by no means be possible.

This book examines and contributes to the structural questions that underpin the current stagnation of South Africa's agrarian reform. Presenting fresh approaches in analysing agrarian issues and tools to assess farming systems and agricultural development, this incisive study will be an important resource to policy makers, academics and those with an interest in agrarian reform.


What does it mean to reverse decades of racial injustice in access to land and productive resources, and to deal with a legacy of concentration and inequality? Can South Africa, which presents itself as the 'development state par excellence', succeed in the transition to more sustainable types of farming and to more localised food systems? The answers provided in this book will be of interest not only to all those interested in the South African experiment, but also to those who, in all regions, are questioning the mainstream agrifood regime and asking how it can be transformed.

Olivier De Schutter
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008–2014)
Co-Chair, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems
Member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Product information

Format : 240mm x 168mm (Soft Cover)
Pages : 384
ISBN 13 : 978-0-7969-2512-1
Publish Year : October 2015
Rights : World Rights

List of figures

List of tables

List of boxes

List of photographs

Acronyms and abbreviations

South Africa's agrarian question

  • 2014: Reflecting on the country's agrarian transition
  • A focus on South Africa's agrarian reform
  • An agrarian diagnosis approach: A long-term approach acknowledging farm diversity
  • Extensive fieldwork: Revealing the realities on the ground
  • Structure of the book

Chapter 1 The planned destruction of 'black' agriculture

  • Overview of previous production systems
  • First signs of distress
  • Land grabbing and the further weakening of black agriculture
  • Ciskei and Transkei
  • KwaZulu
  • Crocodile River Valley (Brits)
  • Lowlands of the northern and eastern regions of the former Transvaal
  • 'Agricultural development' planning for blacks
  • Betterment plan and normative agricultural planning
  • Nwanedzi Valley (Limpopo)
  • New Forest village
  • Promoting a small black farming elite in the bantustans
  • Bantustan of Bophuthatswana
  • Alluvial terraces of the Kat River (Eastern Cape)
  • Bantustan of Gazankulu
  • Emergence of sugar cane smallholdings in the black spots of KwaZulu
  • Cutting off access to the national agrofood system
  • Conclusion

Chapter 2 Agrarian reform in South Africa: Objectives, evolutions and results at national level

  • South Africa's agricultural liberalisation, deregulation and the institutional restructuring of the public sector
  • Deracialisation of the agricultural sector and South Africa's spatial configuration
  • South Africa's land reform programmes
  • Land restitution
  • Land tenure reform
  • Land redistribution
  • Two phases of land reform
  • First phase (1994–1999): Land policies focusing on the establishment of subsistence farmers and food security
  • Second phase (1999–2004): Land policy aiming at creating small-scale commercial farmers
  • Shifting from land to agrarian reform and the development of emerging black farmers
  • A preliminary attempt towards spatial reform
  • South Africa's persisting dualistic agricultural structure
  • Disappointing results of the country's land and agrarian reforms
  • A stagnating sector becoming more and more concentrated
  • Conclusion

Chapter 3 Analysing productive processes and performances of agriculture at local scale in South Africa: How to proceed?

  • Agrarian diagnosis: Origin of the approach and key concepts
  • The agrarian system: A complex and multidimensional concept
  • Cropping, livestock and production systems: Concepts leading to unavoidable embedding of analytical scales
  • The notions of livelihood or activity system: Are they complementary or contradictory to the production system?
  • The agrarian diagnosis explained in light of its application in South Africa
  • Selecting a study area
  • Studying historical dynamics and reconstructing production systems' trajectories
  • Analysing the production systems from a technical and economic perspective
  • Selecting study areas
  • Characteristics of the study areas and their local problematics
  • Defining and delimiting the study area
  • Characterising the mode of exploitation of the environment
  • Selecting production units to be studied in detail and sampling
  • Characterising the technical operation and measuring the economic efficiency of the production systems
  • Value added and productivity
  • Distribution of value added and farm income
  • Placing production systems in the socio-economic and institutional sphere of the agrarian system

Chapter 4 The interlinked but continuously divergent production systems of the catchment area of the Nwanedzi River (Limpopo Province)

  • Agro-climatic conditions and importance of agriculture
  • Historical background, land tenure and socio-economic characteristics
  • Market proximity, off-farm jobs and contract farming opportunities
  • Landscape examination and zoning
  • Historical dynamics
  • First white settlements in tribal lands and early division of land
  • From eradication of malaria to the implementation of the first pro-white agriculture policies
  • The golden age of white agriculture and the reinforcement of segregation policies
  • The agrarian crisis of the 1980/90s: In or out the system
  • Post-apartheid reforms and restructuring of markets
  • Typology of production systems
  • Thirteen production systems grouped in seven broad categories
  • Subsistence micro-farmers cultivating residential starchy staple in gardens for self-consumption, depending on off-farm incomes (subgroups 1, 2, 3 and 5)
  • Micro-farmers depending on off-farm income, combining staples for self-consumption and vegetables for local markets (subgroup 4)
  • Small-scale producers of staple crops depending on off-farm activities and social grants (subgroup 6)
  • Medium-scale commercial farmers specialised in vegetable production for the local and domestic markets (subgroups 7, 8, 9 and 10)
  • Extensive commercial farmers, producers of fruits mainly for the domestic market (subgroup 11)
  • Intensive large-scale commercial producers of fruits and vegetables for the domestic and export markets (subgroup 12)
  • Emerging industrial broiler producers (subgroup 13)
  • Economic results
  • Land productivity
  • Labour productivity
  • Household income
  • Conclusion and perspectives

Chapter 5 Constrained potential: Intensive agriculture in the Hazyview region (Mpumalanga)

  • Study area
  • Agro-ecological characterisation
  • Subtropical climate
  • Tropical and subtropical crops
  • Landscape and river system
  • Geology and soils
  • River system and hydraulic systems: The different irrigation schemes of the former 'white areas'
  • White Waters Irrigation Board (Da Gama Dam) – Zone 3
  • Sabie River Irrigation Board – Zones 2 and 1
  • Farmers in Kiepersol
  • History
  • From the 19th century until the end of World War II
  • 1950–1970: 'White farming' boom, forced removals and creation of irrigation schemes
  • Boom of white 'commercial' farming after World War II
  • Black farmers confined into homelands without irrigation
  • Black farmers confined into homelands with irrigation
  • From 1970 to the end of apartheid
  • Creation of bantustans and explosion of the population density
  • Modification of the production systems
  • The situation since 1994
  • Tourism boom and explosion of macadamias
  • Access to irrigation in the former bantustan
  • ...but the distribution of water resources remains very unfair in the study area
  • Failure of land reform projects, lack of agrarian transformation and maintenance of a post-apartheid agricultural segregation
  • Description of the different production systems
  • White irrigated farming
  • Farms producing bananas (PS1, as well as variant PS2)
  • Farms producing avocados, macadamias and bananas (PS3A and variants PS3B, PS4, PS5)
  • Part-time farmers (PS6A and variant PS6B)
  • Small-scale farming with access to irrigation in New Forest (PS7B and PS8)
  • 'Emerging' and 'entrepreneurial' farmers (PS9A, PS9B, PS10)
  • Breeders/raisers on communal land (PS11)
  • Comparison of production systems
  • Comparison of net value added
  • Comparison of the net farm income/family worker
  • Conclusions and prospects

Chapter 6 Unequal access to means of production and agrarian trajectories: An agrarian diagnosis of the Kat Valley (Eastern Cape)

  • Different ecosystems form the Kat River Valley
  • Unequal access to land set up since the 19th century within the South African political context
  • 1850–1900: A black peasantry development limited by white supremacy
  • Beginning of the 20th century: The initiation of segregation policies
  • 1950–1980: Unequal access to irrigation water and consequences of 'betterment planning' policy
  • 1980–1994: Consolidation of the Ciskei and diversification of citrus cultivars in the white areas
  • Since 2000: Growth of production in the upper valley citrus farm
  • The production systems reflect the unequal access to agricultural means of production
  • Extensive breeding systems on shrubby savannah
  • Extensive cattle raising (PS1)
  • Cattle, sheep and goat rearing on large white farms and trophy hunting (PS2)
  • Cattle, sheep and goat rearing on small (black-owned) farms with irrigated vegetable crops (PS3)
  • Citrus production systems
  • White-owned farms with large-scale orchards and cattle raising (PS4)
  • Black-owned citrus farms
  • Black-owned farms in production since the 1980s (PS5)
  • Farming activities in the villages of the former Ciskei
  • Chicken breeding for home consumption
  • Goat rearing on communal land, sold to families for ceremonies
  • Households with low incomes (mainly social grants) having only one agricultural activity (AS1)
  • Households with medium income and two agricultural activities (AS2)
  • Households with higher income and stock-raising activity (AS3)
  • Comparison of economic results
  • NVAs show the diversity of technical practices
  • Income inequalities in relation to access to land
  • The activity systems are not based on agriculture in the villages
  • Conclusions and perspectives
  • Ongoing development dynamics
  • Unequal access to means of production and possible evolutions

Chapter 7 Agrarian reform and sustainability of sugar cane production: A tricky balance (The case of Sezela, KwaZulu-Natal)

  • Sezela: An economy based on sugar production
  • The coastal strip: Housing and tourism
  • The granite hills: Large cane plantations and former reserves
  • The sandstone plateau: Cane and eucalyptus plantations
  • A brief history of agriculture in the area
  • Characterisation of the production systems identified
  • Integrated farms – PS1 (MCPs)
  • Capitalist farms owned by a diversified company (PS2)
  • Cane growers (mainly) and contractors (PS3)
  • NFGs with no equipment and using a contractor (PS4)
  • Farms restituted to black communities through land restitution programmes (PS5, PS6)
  • Production systems among small-scale growers in the former missions (PS7, PS8)
  • Production systems in the former missions without sugar cane production (PS9, PS10)
  • Comparison of economic results
  • Comparison of the NVA of sugar cane-based systems
  • Comparison of total NVA and farm income
  • Conclusions
  • Land repartition versus cane supply repartition: A non-proportional relationship
  • Current trends: Land reform, just to maintain cane production?
  • Development prospects: Towards the promotion of alternative production systems?

Chapter 8 The irrigated scheme of Jacobsdal and its land and agrarian reform issues

  • Introduction
  • Presentation of the study area
  • Geographical situation
  • Soil features
  • Characterisation of three agro-ecological units
  • Agrarian history of the study area
  • 1947–1987: Construction of the first canals and development of flood-irrigated agriculture
  • 1987–post 1994: Securing water resources in the context of liberalisation of the agricultural market and agrarian reform
  • Construction of the Orange–Riet canal
  • Liberalisation of the markets
  • The increase in wages
  • Land and agrarian reform
  • Various strategies to adapt to these changes
  • Technical and economic characterisation of current production systems
  • Production systems on natural pastures without irrigation
  • PS1: Extensive breeding (surface area/family worker (FW) = 2?800 ha)
  • PS2: Game farms (surface area/FW = 6?000?ha)
  • PS3: Extensive breeding on small surface area (surface area/FW = 60)
  • Production systems under irrigation
  • PS4: Irrigated maize/winter cereal and alfalfa (surface area/FW = 130 ha)
  • PS5: Irrigated alfalfa in rotation with maize (surface area/FW = 120 ha)
  • PS6: Dairy cattle farming (surface area/FW = 50 ha)
  • PS7: Crops and cattle fattening (surface area/FW = 100 ha)
  • PS8: Alfalfa, vineyard, fattening pigs and small sheep and cattle ranching (surface area/FW = 6.5 ha)
  • PS9: Crops and sheep fattening (surface area/FW = 20 ha)
  • PS10: Irrigated alfalfa and cattle fattening on small surfaces (surface area/FW = 10?ha)
  • Economic results
  • Comparison of the NVA per worker
  • Comparison of FIs
  • Conclusion

Chapter 9 Brits' irrigated areas and neighbouring communities (the Madibeng and Rustenburg municipalities, North West province)

  • Presentation of the study area
  • Agro-ecological characterisation of the study area
  • A dry subtropical climate tempered by altitude
  • Landscape and river system
  • Water and market access conditions
  • Unequal access to water
  • Proximity to many diversified markets
  • Abundance of cheap labour
  • Growing mining development in the region
  • Agrarian history of the Brits region
  • From the year 1000 to the end of the 19th century: Population in the study area
  • The agricultural situation at the beginning of the 20th century: Two already distinct farming methods
  • 1910–1940: Formalisation of spatial segregation and differential development between white and black farmers
  • Agricultural situation in the study area between the 1930s and the 1950s
  • Agricultural situation in the black reserve between 1930 and 1950
  • Agricultural situation in the irrigated lands between 1930 and 1950
  • 1950–1970: Motomechanisation and renovation of the irrigation network
  • 1970–1990: The 'independence' of Bophuthatswana and the tobacco farming crisis
  • The independence of Bophuthatswana and the establishment of the sunflower project
  • White tobacco farming crisis of the 1980s
  • 1990–2010: End of the apartheid and post-apartheid policies
  • Agricultural support policies to black farmers
  • New dynamic of return to the land in the study area in the 1990/2000s
  • Characterisation of the production systems
  • Production systems relying on cattle breeding
  • Cattle breeders who are established on community lands but who do not have a bull (PS1)
  • Cattle breeders who are established on community lands and who have a bull (PS2)
  • Cattle breeders who are established on private lands and who have a bull (PS3)
  • Sunflower producers on the rain-fed lands of the former bantustan (PS4)
  • Producers of wheat/soya who are beneficiaries of the land restitution process (PS5)
  • Irrigated market garden production systems
  • Market-oriented horticultural producers with a sales contract (PS6)
  • Market-oriented horticultural producers selling at the wholesale market (PS7)
  • Market-oriented horticultural producers selling to hawkers (PS8)
  • Comparison of the different production systems
  • Labour productivity and income
  • Development perspectives and conclusion

Chapter 10 Persistent and extreme polarisation: Wide productivity and income gaps

  • White agriculture: Partial motorisation and concentration
  • Partial motorisation and productivity gains
  • Larger farms in fewer hands
  • Residual black agriculture
  • The low productivity of subsistence peasant farming
  • The share of agriculture in the income of smallholders in the former bantustans
  • Wide productivity gaps
  • Government support for white agriculture in the form of low labour costs
  • Government subsidies for white agriculture
  • Pensions and their role
  • Have labour costs increased much since 1994?
  • A distribution of value added that favours capital over labour
  • Irrigated, mechanised grain farming
  • On sugar cane plantations in KwaZulu-Natal
  • Irrigated arboriculture
  • Example of field-scale fruit and vegetable production
  • Recent changes have not compromised the financial efficiency of white-owned holdings
  • Conclusion

Chapter 11 Ambiguities, limits and failures of South Africa's agrarian reform

  • South African agrarian reform, contrasted surveys 'from the bottom'
  • Brits and Hazyview: Known examples of failed restitution programmes
  • Land claim and restitution on the irrigated perimeter of Hartbeespoort (Brits Region, North West province)
  • Kiepersol, region of Hazyview (Mpumalanga)
  • The irrigated area of Jacobsdal on the high central plateaux and the poor results of the redistribution programmes
  • Accessing grazing lands to establish small, extensive animal production via the Settlement/Land Acquisition Grant
  • Limited access to lands of the irrigated area via Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development
  • Access to farmland via lease on land (Pro-Active Land Acquisition Strategy)
  • Sugar regions of KwaZulu-Natal: Redistribution of a (small) portion of land if beneficiaries produce sugar
  • Proactive redistribution by Illovo
  • Dynamics
  • Communities benefiting from restitution programmes, trapped in sugar cane monoproduction
  • Quantitative review on sugar cane
  • Citrus plantations of the Kat River: A mixed example of company transfer
  • In Limpopo province
  • Redistributing water rights: Everything remains to be done
  • Historical water access conditions and recent reforms
  • The example of the Sabie River Valley
  • Lack of irrigation water acts as a brake on development of family agriculture in former bantustans
  • Being trapped in a unique production model and the difficulties encountered to get out of it
  • In search of the technical model
  • The 'Commercial' farming model
  • 'Modern' business based on employees
  • Conclusion

Chapter 12 Contract farming and strategic partnerships: A promising exit or smoke and mirrors?

  • Contract farming and the prospects of inserting small farmers into the juice-processing industry (the Winterveld case in Gauteng)
  • Background of the contract agreement
  • Contract characteristics
  • Enhancement of production capacity: Empowerment, access to resources and capital
  • Strategic partnerships in South Africa's land and agrarian reform: The New Dawn joint ventures in Moletele (Limpopo)
  • Background of the New Dawn strategic partnership in Moletele
  • Characteristics of the strategic partnership
  • Skills transfer, employment and revenue creation
  • Contract farming and strategic partnerships: A critical assessment
  • A few success stories, concerning only a limited number of often better-established farmers
  • Unequal power relations and skewed benefits, between partners and communities and within communities
  • Transferring control and decision rights over production and resources and questioning effective empowerment
  • Genuine capacity of the smallholder–agribusiness model questioned
  • Contract farming and strategic partnerships: Promising exit or smoke and mirrors?

Chapter 13 Far from grassroots agrarian reform: Towards new production models, increased concentration and the export of the South African model

  • Deregulating and liberalising the South African agrarian economy: From a state-controlled to an oligopolistic sector
  • The unexpected guest: Financial capital and new models of production in South Africa's agriculture
  • South Africa's agrarian conquest and the export of its production model
  • South Africa's agrarian transformation?
  • The financialisation of South Africa's agricultural sector
  • Towards corporate production models within South Africa's agricultural sector
  • The globalisation – or 'foreignisation' – of South Africa's agricultural sector
  • Vertical integration, primary production concentration and further dualisation of South Africa's agricultural sector
  • From independent farmers to global service providers: Farmers' changed status in the agricultural society
  • Conclusion: Top–top transformation, elite redistribution and an increasingly blocked sector to restructure

Chapter 14 Conclusion

  • South African agrarian reform: Back to its old ways
  • Is the development of black farming possible, despite everything?



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