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by PLAAS in 2018

PLAAS engages in sustained and meaningful ways with key sectors in society – often those who are not in conversation with one another. We work with government in a variety of ways at a senior level. We work closely with social movements, non-governmental organisations, and with small-scale farmer organisations as well as agribusiness. We provide input to the private sector, especially financial institutions, both in South Africa and abroad. And we shape global perceptions of the South African land question by briefing international diplomatic and investor missions and via extensive media exposure.

With all these relationships, we are in a unique position to listen as well as to inform, and to shape and transmit key ideas and shape the emerging narrative and potential areas of consensus for a way forward.

To enable PLAAS to continue to play this role, we need to achieve financial sustainability. Currently, as a relatively small institute, largely reliant on donor-funded short-term research projects, we manage to punch above our weight in public debate, but this may not always be possible. If we cannot retain our staff, and cover our core operational costs, we will not be able to continue to play our role. We need a sustainable financial basis, an endowment fund that can provide a sustainable stream of income to enable our operations to continue.

by PLAAS in 2018

This brochure is a celebration of more than 23 years of research, teaching and policy engagement at PLAAS. Catch a snap shot of our publications, research areas, research partnerships, public engagement, media engagement, teaching, and staffing over the last two decades.

by Michael Aliber in 2015

(Draft chapter for ‘Land Divided Land Restored. Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st  Century’ edited by Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, Jacana Media, 2015) 

If there is one thing regarding land reform in South Africa about which there is near-universal agreement, it is that the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ (WB/WS) approach is problematic. At the 2005 Land Summit, for instance, the commission which addressed redistribution reported a ‘consensus on rejection of willing buyer, willing seller (except Agri SA)’, while the overall report noted, ‘The overwhelming majority of participants in the Summit rejected the notion that the land reform process should be based solely on the notion of willing seller-willing buyer. Ten years on, these remain fair assessments of prevailing sentiments on the matter. 
The rejection of WB/WS is largely based on two overlapping but distinct concerns. First, people allege that WB/WS is mainly responsible for the slow pace of land reform. And second, WB/WS is the ugly face of the ‘property clause’ of the 1996 Constitution, which some critics argue protects largely white landowners at the expense of the disenfranchised and thus also helps explain the slow pace of land reform. 
In the light of this apparent consensus, Fred Hendricks poses an astute question: ‘Why then does the government persist with this palpably inappropriate policy, given the widespread recognition that it does not work? The current impasse seems all the more odd given that, complementing the ‘widespread recognition’ that WB/WS is the main problem with the pace of land reform, there is a shared conviction that there are superior alternatives. These have remained more or less the same for some years, and have been repeatedly touted by senior government leaders: namely expropriation, land tax and the application of ‘just and equitable compensation’. Some critics of WB/WS, of course, go further, suggesting constitutional amendments to the property clause or endorsement of Zimbabwe-style land invasions.  


by Ian Scoones, Rebecca Smalley, Ruth Hall, Dzodzi Tsikata in 2018

Global resource scarcity has become a central policy concern, with predictions of rising populations, natural resource depletion and hunger. The narratives of scarcity that arise as a result justify actions to harness resources considered ‘underutilised’, leading to contestations over rights and entitlements and producing new scarcities. Yet scarcity is contingent, contextual, relational and above all political. We present an analysis of three framings – absolute, relative and political scarcity – associated with the intellectual traditions of Malthus, Ricardo and Marx, respectively. A review of 134 global and Africa-specific policy and related sources demonstrates how diverse framings of scarcity – what it is, its causes and what is to be done – are evident in competing narratives that animate debates about the future of food and farming in Africa and globally. We argue that current mainstream narratives emphasise absolute and relative scarcity, while ignoring political scarcity. Opening up this debate, with a more explicit focus on political scarcities is, we argue, important; emphasising how resources are distributed between different needs and uses, and so different people and social classes. For African settings, seen as both a source of abundant resources and a site where global scarcities may be resolved, as well as where local scarcities are being experienced most acutely, a political scarcity framing on the global land rush, and resource questions more broadly, is, we suggest, essential. 

Keywords: scarcity, resources, land rush, narratives, politics 


by Barbara van Koppen, Barbara Nompumelelo Tapela, Everisto Mapedza in 2018

In the global debates on the modes of farming, including irrigated farming, that are viable for the majority of rural people, three models prevail: (i) smallholder family farming; (ii) farming led by agribusiness’ capital, technologies, and forward and backward linkages in an estate mode; and (iii) agribusiness-led farming in an out-grower mode. In South Africa, these three and more modes of irrigated agriculture have been implemented. In the colonial era, in most of the country, the state supported a white-dominated estate mode of farming based on wage labor. Smallholder family farming remained confined to black people in the former homelands. Smallholder irrigation schemes in the former homelands were out-grower schemes, managed by the colluding apartheid state, white agribusiness and irrigation industry. Since independence in 1994, the search for viable modes of farming and irrigation is high on the policy agenda. This is part of the envisaged transition of the state into a tripartite constellation of citizens, state and service providers that delivers accountable, outcome-based services. 

Smallholder irrigation schemes in former homelands face particular challenges in this transition. One of the piloted solutions is a blend of the estate and out-grower mode of farming: the joint venture. Smallholders pool their plots and hand over the land for management by a strategic partner from the agribusiness with capital for inputs, technologies, and linkages to input and output markets. The government ensures the construction of irrigation infrastructure. However, the results of this option were mixed. As a contribution to the search for viable modes of smallholder irrigated farming, this report analyzes the events and outcomes of smallholder irrigation schemes in former homelands where joint ventures were piloted. The method used is an in-depth historical case study (or ‘biography’) applied to the Flag Boshielo irrigation scheme in Limpopo Province. Situated on the riparian strips along the Olifants River, the overall scheme consists of a row of 13 smallholder sub-schemes (or ‘farms’) of about 100 hectares (ha) each on the right bank and one smallholder sub-scheme on the left bank. Six joint ventures have been implemented since 2001; three, which had started in 2009, had discontinued by 2012. The report starts by tracing the early dispossession and later resettlement of black smallholders under the gendered apartheid policies of forced removals, divide and rule to break resistance, food security, and white agribusiness and irrigation development. In these out-grower arrangements, smallholders were food secure, but not more than laborers on their own fields, while subsidized parastatal development corporations managed inputs, production, irrigation, storage and sale of the produce.

The report concludes with recommendations on how to further operationalize these policies. For joint ventures, recommendations include a robust bilateral contract between the strategic partner and smallholders with clear goals and enforcement of employment generation, production and marketing skills transfer and contacts, risk management and internal governance. Support to exchange among peers is also recommended. Further, smallholders in joint ventures and other public smallholder irrigation schemes would benefit from stronger land tenure arrangements backed by the government. Government support is also key to diversify irrigation technologies for women and men smallholders. Lastly, further comparison of different joint ventures and between joint ventures, smallholder schemes, and the continuing spontaneous initiatives in the Flag Boshielo irrigation scheme and elsewhere, will shed more light on viable modes of irrigated farming that achieve job creation, food security, poverty alleviation and skills development.