Press Release from the African Centre for Biodiversity

Johannesburg, Thursday 5 April 2018

Limited transparency, weak accountability, and capture by corporations and politically-connected individuals. These are features of the current South African landscape found in government’s smallholder farmer support programmes, according to a research report by African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) released today.

The report, titled “Input supply in South Africa’s smallholder farmer support programmes: A tale of neo-apartheid plans, dodgy dealings and corporate capture” raises concerns about publicly-funded programmes that are supposed to be assisting smallholder farmers.

The stated objectives of government programmes are to provide support to 300,000 smallholder farmers, and to bring underutilised land on communal areas and on land reform farms into production.

R46 billion was allocated to provincial farmer support programmes from 2010 to 2020. Of this, R20 billion is from two conditional grants from the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), namely the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) and Ilima/Letsema. Despite this huge expenditure, information on what it was spent on and results are extremely hard –near impossible- to come by. According to ACB researcher Dr Stephen Greenberg “There are serious shortcomings with government monitoring and reporting. This raises doubts about the validity of figures being used by National Treasury, and highlights problems in public accountability and transparency”

There is evidence that multinational corporations and contractors are the main beneficiaries of input supply programmes which are meant to be assisting smallholder farmers. Seed, fertiliser and pesticides are all either produced by multinationals themselves or under licence from these same corporations. Despite sparse information, there is evidence of corporations securing contracts for input supply. These include Pannar (Pioneer Hi-Bred), Omnia, Senwes, Afgri, Tongaat Hulett, Illovo, Landini, Bayer, Astral, NWK, Wiphold and Profert.

Monsanto is a beneficiary of input supply programmes through the purchase and distribution of genetically-modified Roundup Ready maize seed in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal for sure, with no information provided for other provinces. Monsanto also stands to benefit from efforts to spread Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) seed through public sector input supply activities. WEMA is considered a ‘Trojan Horse’ for the introduction of bogus drought tolerant GM maize seed to smallholders in South and Southern Africa.

“There is concerning evidence that government is farming on behalf of smallholders in efforts to bring underutilised land in communal areas and on land reform farms into production”, says Greenberg.

Government is channelling smallholder support funds to corporate coffers or to contractors to farm on behalf of smallholders who have handed over their land for this purpose. In exchange, smallholders receive a portion of the harvest as a lease payment. Wiphold is an example of this. Wiphold is a black women-owned investment firm, founded by Nomhle Canca, Louisa Mojela, Wendy Luhabe and Gloria Serobe. Wiphold has been receiving public sector smallholder grants since 2014 to support commercial production in the Eastern Cape.

“This does not strengthen smallholders or develop capabilities to become sustainable producers. Rather it is a very expensive welfare programme with a cut going to the corporation who has input supply businesses and also gets subsidised raw materials for downstream value addition”, says Mariam Mayet, ACB’s Director.

This agricultural model reproduces apartheid-era approaches to black smallholder farmer support. It is based on the template of large-scale commercial farming inherited from the apartheid era, with high cost production inputs and large-scale mechanisation. This model is not appropriate for the majority of smallholder farmers who remain resource poor and require more diverse forms of support than this model allows for.

Although government recognises that most agricultural inputs are either imported or the intellectual property is held overseas, there are no efforts to remedy this situation. This results in a complete dependence on corporate inputs despite preferential procurement policies. In this context, black economic empowerment (BEE) is limited to supply contracts which are simply conduits for corporate products. This in turn shapes the agricultural interventions towards Green Revolution models which favour corporate inputs.

Alternatives require a new vision for agrarian transformation based on decentralisation and a far greater role for smallholders in food production, especially for local markets. Although this can be found in places in government policies, it does not appear to be carried through to programming. With regard to production inputs, preferential procurement could be extended from input supply to input production. This upstream diversification can be based on diverse crops and varieties, and more appropriate soil fertility and pest management products and services produced by farmer-owned and small enterprises.

ACB calls on government to review these programmes to ensure that smallholders are the real beneficiaries. Support programmes should go beyond top-down delivery mechanisms and be designed and oriented towards building a participatory, diverse and distributed rural economy that is socially just and ecologically sustainable.

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