THE government must find alternative ways of providing tenure security for communal farmers and investigate better ways of financing land reform so new farmers do not become saddled with debt, President Jacob Zuma said.
The government has struggled to amass sufficient funds to achieve its goals for land reform, with many white commercial farmers being left unpaid for up to three years after the government bought their farms.
Speaking to the African Farmers' Association of SA congress in Pretoria on Monday, Zuma said one proposed plan involved a district-based approach to land reform and its financing.
"It proposes that each district establishes a district land reform committee where all stakeholders are involved, to be responsible for identifying 20% of the commercial agricultural land in the district and giving commercial farmers the option of assisting its transfer to black farmers," he said.
This was the first time Zuma had formally tabled the plan to both smallholder and commercial farmers.
He said the implementation of the proposal would include identifying land readily available in the market, land where the farmer was under severe financial pressure, land held by an absentee landlord willing to exit and land in a deceased estate.
After being identified, the land would be bought by the state at 50% of market value, which he said would be closer to its fair productive value. The shortfall would be made up by cash or in-kind contributions from commercial farmers in the district who volunteered to participate.
Zuma said commercial farmers would be protected from losing their land and gain black economic empowerment status in exchange for giving in kind a portion of the land value. He also referred to a stepped- up programme of financing, saying it should involve the Treasury, the Land Bank and established white farmers.
The model envisages that the cost of land reform be spread between all stakeholders and that new financial instruments be designed to facilitate land reform. Zuma said these innovative proposals had to be tested.
"It would be useful to hear from you as members of the farming sector if you would support such an approach," he said.
He also expressed concern about neglected research and development programmes in agriculture, saying the government needed to increase investment in agricultural research and development.
"The growing challenge of climate change means that we need to look at ways of making agriculture more sustainable even as we increase its productivity," he said.
This would involve paying greater attention to alternative energy, soil quality, minimum tillage and other forms of conservation farming.
But the Transvaal Agricultural Union of SA (Tau SA) said the plan was not feasible.
Tau SA president Louis Meintjes said commercial farmers could not pay the cost of land reform.
"If government wants to reform, it has to provide funds for that purpose. It cannot expect ... victims to help pay ... for it," he said. – Additional reporting by Sapa