Declining budgetary allocations for land reform hampers the process – Vumelana

Peter Setou, the CEO at Vumelana Advisory Fund.

Peter Setou, the CEO at Vumelana Advisory Fund.

Published Feb 14, 2024


The declining budgetary allocations for land reform continued to hamper the state’s ability to effectively drive a successful land reform programme, leaving many land-dependent communities entrenched in poverty and frustration, according to the Vumelana Advisory Fund.

Peter Setou, the CEO at Vumelana Advisory Fund, said in an interview that the adoption, in 1996, of the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) sparked optimism for a revitalised land redistribution effort.

“However, this optimism has waned as reports emerge of numerous underperforming farms and extensive fallow land still awaiting redistribution,” Setou said.

According to Vumelana, the noble intentions of the government to empower communities through land redistribution have been thwarted by various challenges, including, among others, corruption among state officials, bureaucratic hurdles, favouritism towards elites, limited access to funding, implementation inefficiencies, and external factors such as crime and deteriorating infrastructure.

The non-profit organisation said one major barrier to the success of the land reform programme had been the lack of access to capital and the far-reaching implications of that.

While initial grants provided by the DALRRD facilitated the launch of farming activities, post-settlement support and sustained financial support were, however, crucial for the long-term success of land reform, it said.

Vumelana said commercial farming required substantial investment and ongoing infusion of capital, which was often beyond the reach of emerging farmers.

To address this, the government needed to create an enabling environment where emerging farmers could leverage their land as collateral to access funding from lending institutions.

“We also need to explore other affordable and innovative financing mechanisms to address the current challenges faced by land reform beneficiaries. The involvement of the private sector and the financial services sector will be crucial if we are to achieve this. By facilitating access to capital, smallholder farmers and other land reform beneficiaries can be empowered to expand operations, acquire essential equipment, and adopt modern technologies to boost productivity.”

He said fostering community-private partnerships held promise for advancing land reform. “Although the private sector has a vested interest in agricultural development, tourism and conservation, a conducive investment environment is essential to enable these community-private partnership agreements. Increased private sector involvement, with investors providing funding, expertise, and avenues for market access to beneficiary communities, can be an indispensable way to drive a successful land reform programme.

“To facilitate this, the government, specifically the DALRRD, should create favourable conditions to enable these relationships to flourish and mitigate some of the risks.”

Vumelana said that historically, the land reform programme was biased towards older male members of communities, neglecting the potential of the younger generations and of women.

It said the PLAS programme provided a classical example on this point.

“According to a comprehensive scientific analysis of the PLAS project compiled by the Agricultural Research Council for the DALRRD in 2019, more than half (approximately 54%) of all land reform beneficiaries were given a limited chance of achieving commercial success, with only 4% of the beneficiaries selected for funding scoring favourably in terms of capacity rating. It is, therefore, no surprise that a corresponding 54% of PLAS beneficiaries did not produce anything substantial on their farms.”

Setou said the Agricultural Research Council correctly pointed out that: “Poor beneficiary selection limits the chances of commercial success and resulted in wasteful expenditure.

“The PLAS investment should be used to support capable beneficiaries who are likely to achieve commercial success. In selecting beneficiaries, entrepreneurial aptitude; resilience and ability to handle risk; ability to manage; and technical ability (as determined by experience, education, and support) have to be considered.”

Setou emphasised that the private sector was more inclined to invest in entities with sound corporate governance practices, as these ensured transparency and accountability, and served as a safeguard against fraud and mismanagement while fostering stability within the community.

Investing in infrastructure upgrades was essential for enhancing farm productivity and sustainability, it added.