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Rural land grab or much needed investment? Impact of large-scale agricultural investments in the communal areas of South Africa

Date: 14 Mar 2017
Time: 13:30 to 14:30

Presented by Nkanyiso Gumede, Researcher, PLAAS, UWC

A surge of ‘large-scale agricultural investments’ has been witnessed in the developing countries after the world fuel, food and financial crises. A staggering 70% of these investments occurred in African countries instigated by a variety of institutional actors. These investments are also taking place in the communal areas of South Africa. However, the impact that these investments have on the livelihoods and land rights of the people in the former homelands remains unknown.

This seminar presentation reports on the 2016 initiative to investigate the impact of these investments on the land rights and livelihoods of local communities. Typically, investments have proceeded on the basis of a strategic partnership, contractually binding communities to private investors via traditional leadership, and with government facilitating access to capital and infrastructure. A wide range of mechanisms to benefit local communities, such as land use fees, dividends in cash and kind, employment opportunities and skills transfer, have materialized minimally, and have generated intra-community conflicts.

The limitation on land access triggered by the investment projects has further diminished household field cultivation, already hampered by unaffordable inputs, labour shortages and lack of support from government. Despite these shortcomings, some farmers with alternative land still engage in field cultivation at reduced scale. They also engage in household garden cultivation for both consumption and sales, and further derive other benefits from their land. However, those without alternative land have suffered. It is finally argued that these investments do have some potential to contribute positively to the people’s livelihoods and even reduce threats to their land rights, but that would require strong monitoring of these partnerships by government and effective empowerment of the community representative structures.