You are here

by Phillan Zamchiya in 2018

How have foreign-based investments affected land-based livelihoods for smallholder farmers in Africa? This article seeks to shift debate from an insular macro-economic perspective to a more diverse livelihoods approach, one that is informed by the day-to-day quotidian concerns of the rural smallholder farmers. The article is informed by a qualitative case study of Mansa Sugar Limited, an Indian-owned company, which acquired 5 000 hectares of state and customary land in Zambia’s newly-created Chembe district.

The land was acquired for irrigated sugar-cane production in order to produce  sugar, ethanol and electricity. Hall (2011) and Scoones (2016) long observed the sugar rush in Southern Africa. We challenge the assumptions that there are vast tracts of vacant and unproductive land readily available for investors in marginalised rural Africa, that smallholder farmers are mere substantivists, that investor-promised multiple and inclusive macro-economic benefits and modernisation projects for the rural sector are a given. In addition, we assert that regulation of investments is more in theory than practice as power relations are heavily skewed in favour of big capital, some state elites and traditional leaders in the context of weak governance. We acknowledge that some jobs are created with differential benefits and some benefits are derived from social corporate responsibility but they are not meaningful enough to support sustainable livelihoods. Consequently, the investments have negatively affected the diverse and multiple land-based livelihoods for the rural farmers including loss of financial income, food, good health and education.  Hence the need for an alternative path to development in contrast to the ahistorical envisioned capitalist transition to large-scale estates. To substantiate our argument, we present this article in seven interrelated parts.

First, we give our theoretical approach and justification for the article. Second, we unpack the agrarian investments in Chembe, analysing the pull factors in line with the state’s pro-market policies. Third, we detail the qualitative methodology and why it is of use in capturing local livelihoods. Fourth, we explore whether the land was vacant and unproductive, how the land was acquired in the context of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), then broaden to look at wider livelihoods lost beyond land and land rights. Fifth, we analyse whether the forms of compensation covered wider livelihoods in line with regional and international guidelines for responsible investments. The sixth section motivates for an alternative path before concluding in the last section. In the next section we elaborate on our theoretical perspective.

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