Black farmers in South Africa need support: how it could be done

Most countries in both the rich and the developing world have some sort of programme to help early career farmers (mostly, but not exclusively young people) to get established in a farming or agribusiness enterprise. South Africa sticks out like a sore thumb, even against many African countries, in not having such a programme.

In our view, subsidies for black farmers in South Africa are justified. This is because they would help deliver a more inclusive agricultural sector and correct past racial biases.

South Africa used to have an extensive support system for farmers. Under apartheid white farmers received a host of subsidies.

Based on our collective five decades researching the agricultural sector in South Africa we are strongly of the view that the country needs to introduce a agricultural support framework that is more comprehensive, broad based and flexible to enable black farmers to join the ranks of commercial agriculture.

In this note we take a leaf from the experience of the earlier support programmes for white farmers and the farmer support programmes for black farmers implemented by the Development Bank of Southern Africa in the 1980s and propose a support programme that we believe would have a rapid and sector-wide impact.

These lessons provide the principles for a new agile, broad-based programme of support that should enable the establishment of farming enterprises that were previously excluded from commercial agriculture. We specifically deal with direct financial support to farmers. We don’t address other important tasks of government that are also part of the support framework for any farming enterprises. These include, among many, research, agricultural product standards and a state supported Land Bank.

But there are two provisos to our proposals: it isn’t possible, or desirable, to simply re-implement what was there before. And secondly, any new support programme must be tailored to the specific circumstances of today. This includes taking into account the country’s current fiscal constraints.

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