Read of the Week

Finding Common Ground

Wandile Sihlobo


Review: Karen Watkins

Land, Equity and Agriculture – the sub-heading of this book – are important issues that affect everyone.

Food insecurity, land grabs, employment and business are closely intertwined.

The conundrum is how to find an acceptable balance between land use and equitable distribution.

As chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA, Wandile Sihlobo is well placed in this landscape. Among other accolades he has served as a member of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Economic Advisory Council.

This book is a collection of newspaper columns published in Business Day and is divided into four sections.

Sihlobo begins by painting a picture of the country’s situation regarding land reform and the agricultural sector.

He asks pertinent questions, such as how much land the state owns and how much of it is used for agriculture. Sihlobo illustrates that concentrating only on agricultural land reform is a mistake, as residential and industrial sectors must be included too.

Other sections in the book focus on broad themes faced by South Africa’s agricultural sector around leadership, jobs, trade and crops, as well as recent developments, challenges and opportunities.

He encourages the commercialisation of black farms, and writes that we cannot rely on grants to continue funding projects. Rather we need agricultural partnerships.

He discusses the challenges around title deeds, money and the need for farmers to be independent. He points out that people who need to access capital from banks for tree planting must then wait for them to produce fruit.

Sihlobo also writes about niche crops that should be labour intensive and have high value, including horticulture, fruits and marijuana.

Most of the beneficiaries of title deeds so far are men, he writes. Now is the time to concentrate on women, and young people. Related challenges include assessing skills and level of education.

Reading between the lines, it is obvious that government have missed numerous golden opportunities to speed up land reform, with stumbling blocks ranging from inadequate policies to bureaucratic red tape.

However, with passionate people like Sihlobo taking up the gauntlet, we can see hope for the land.