The next Great Trek: South African commercial farmers moving north

Research team: Ruth Hall, Gaynor Paradza

PLAAS, University of the Western Cape

Unlike the other country studies, this study is not a study within one country’s boundaries; rather, it will look at the role of South African capital and farmers elsewhere in the region and the continent. While for the past decade at least, small numbers of South African farmers have moved to Zambia, to Nigeria, and to several other countries, this trend seems to be undergoing both a quantitative and a qualitative shift. On the one hand, available information is that as of early 2010 Agri South Africa (AgriSA), the dominant commercial farmers’ association, was engaged in discussions with 17 African governments concerning investments in those countries. On the other hand, it appears that whereas in the past their migration was largely individual or in small groups, now it is being more centrally organised and coordinated, through AgriSA, than was previously the case, and is also more frequently taking the form of large concessions for newly formed consortia and agribusinesses.

The purpose of this study is to document and analyse major land acquisitions by South African farmers and agribusinesses and to analyse the processes through which these have occurred, and are occurring, their impacts, and their implications for the changing shape of agriculture. In a context where land rights are subject to multiple claims and counter-claims in South Africa, and where post-apartheid regulation has imposed new costs on commercial farmers, the expansion of this sector, its farmers and companies, may prompt further contestations over land rights elsewhere. The study will address the implications for land rights and livelihoods in ‘receiving’ countries, and for land rights policy and legal frameworks. The implications extend beyond the question of land rights. Research is needed to understand the degree to which South Africa is no longer merely exporting its farmers, but also its value chains, to the rest of the continent – and what this means for trajectories of agrarian change, and the possibilities of broad-based and poverty-reducing agricultural growth in the affected countries. One component of the study will be a desktop monitoring study to understand the changing character, scale and location of SA investments elsewhere in the region and the continent. In addition, two field-based studies will be conducted. Provisionally, these are the AgriSA-Congo deal, and the deals concluded by the two SA sugar giants, Illovo and Tongaat-Hulett, in Mozambique and Malawi in particular.

The overarching research question is: What are the factors that shape how actors – from local to international – make decisions and policy around these land deals, what are their interests and agendas, and what ideologies and discourses of legitimation are employed in favour of these deals? The objectives of the study are to document and analyse the origins, processes, terms, impacts and outcomes of some land deals involving South African commercial farmers and agribusinesses elsewhere on the continent; to critically assess the impact of these on land rights and livelihoods, to document the responses of land rights holders, and to identify the implications for social differentiation, class formation and gender equity; and to investigate and analyse the interests and agendas that shape the governance dimensions, from local to national to international levels, and how these are presented and justified.