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Exporting contradictions: the expansion of South African agrarian capital within Africa

by Ruth Hall, Ben Cousins in 2017

Agrarian change in South Africa over the past two decades has seen consolidation of the hegemony of large-scale commercial farming and corporate agribusiness within agro-food systems. Constrained domestic demand and growth opportunities elsewhere have driven both farming and agribusiness capitals to move into other African countries, attempting to reproduce agro-food systems similarly centred on the dominance of large capital. This is evident in five areas: first, the financialization of agriculture and ‘farmland funds’; second, multinational and South African input supply industries; third, large-scale land deals to expand industrial farming systems; fourth, the export of South African companies’ food processing, manufacture, logistics and distribution operations; and fifth, the expanding reach of South African supermarkets and fast food chains. Regional expansion involves South African agrarian capital encountering substantial obstacles to entry, and challenges mounted by competitors in destination markets. Success as a regional hegemon in Africa’s agro-food system is thus far from assured, and even where it does appear to succeed, generates contradictions, and rising social tensions of the kinds experienced in South Africa itself.

KEYWORDS: Agro-food system, land grab, supermarkets, financialization, South Africa, Africa