This is the column where Perspective asks well-known opinion formers to give their views on PALS and its mission. Although Perspective will publish gladly, the views are not necessarily that of PALS who will respond to comments if deemed necessary.
Christo served as deputy CEO of Agri SA since 2015 before he was appointed CEO in 2020. A trained music educator, he started his career in 1986 at a primary school on the Cape Flats. He holds, among other qualifications, a Master’s degree in public policy and administration from Stellenbosch University’s School of Acquired Public Leadership. The greater part of his illustrious career has been in executive management positions in which he lead breakthrough turnaround-strategies at educational, cultural and business institutions.
What is your perspective regarding the effectiveness and success of PALS in terms of the following angles?
PALS plays a critical role in terms of not only showcasing best practices in terms of new farmer development and establishment through effective partnerships, but it also demonstrates to the political leadership of our country that partnerships between black and white farmers can bring about greater inclusivity in the sector.
Going forward though, greater inclusivity by growing the number of black commercial farmers will be important. This must however go hand in hand with an economically viable and sustainable land reform process. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development who is the custodian of a total of 10 454 652 hectares of land needs to ensure that this land is made available to people with an appetite and aptitude for commercial farming.
Currently, a total of 1 289 583 hectares are subject to active long-term agricultural leases. During the past five years only 8 173 ha was transferred to individuals and businesses, while 104 850 ha was transferred to communities. Why so little of this land acquired by the state is translated into full ownership or long term leases, cannot go unchallenged, because it undermines the productive use of such land.
A former President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stated the following: “Agrarian reform should not merely subdivide misery, it must raise living standards. Ownership raises the farmer from his feet, but productivity will keep him on his feet.”
PALS play a huge role in driving this point home. A land reform agenda seeking political outcomes as opposed to economic outcomes so aptly illustrated by the PALS projects, only “distributes” misery. A land reform agenda seeking economic outcomes, knows that security of tenure and ownership of land and an operational strategy based on on-going training, sound blended financing principles, world class extension services, access to local and global markets and integration into organised agricultural structures are critical success factors.
PALS is premising its transformation agenda on merit. This approach ensures greater success as opposed to a transformation agenda based on equity targets. Because for South Africa to feed its growing population, it is critical to increase food production on the back of affordable financing, continuous scientific and technological development and a free market system. For this to happen, merit should never be compromised. Because it is not land that produces food, but expertise. In this regard the track record of the PALS initiative is living proof that partnerships based on merit guarantee greater success. Equally important though is to create a conducive political, economic and social environment in which farmers and food production can flourish. Food security depends on it!