Can land and agriculture be the silver bullet that lifts South Africans out of poverty? And how does the agriculture sector help tackle the increasing decay of rural towns?
These were the big questions a panel of experts and business leaders in agriculture tackled at the opening of this year‘s Nation in Conversation series at Nampo Harvest Day, South Africa‘s biggest annual agriculture fair.
“Agricultural production only makes up 2.5% of the GDP. If you want to solve poverty through agriculture, you‘re going to have problems,” said Tommie van Zyl, CEO of ZZ2.
The ability of land ownership to allow poor South Africans to accumulate wealth can, however, not be disputed, the experts agreed.
“Black people in rural parts of the country have for generations lived without the ability to generate wealth,” said Vito Rugani, who started a small vegetable farm 26 years ago and grew it into Greenway Farms, which is one of South Africa‘s largest carrot producers today.
“Imagine what people could do if they could sell their land to buy a house and get a bond on that house to educate their children?”
While South Africa‘s income inequality is said to be the highest in the world with a Gini coefficient (measure of income inequality) of 0.7, the wealth inequality when calculated comes in at 0.9 – even higher.
“We have to be more nuanced when discussing inequality. Incomes change, but wealth creates its own income over time. Without it, inequality is entrenched over generations,” said political analyst Nompumelelo Rundi.
‘Focus on the education of young people‘
Rundi believes the answer lies in education.
“The fact that 60% of the youth have never held a job and, when you look at the poor social mobility between generations, it tells us that the problem is structural. There is the inability of the economy to grow and create jobs. We will have to focus on the education of young people.”
According to political analyst and author Prince Mashele, it is worthwhile to look at history to see how, first the British in South Africa and later the Afrikaners, solved the problem of poverty among their people.
He pointed out three tools the respective governments used to create wealth for their people, namely the state, private enterprise in either the mines of factories, and education.
“If the blacks want to solve poverty they must use the same tools. The state must back its people. Black people haven‘t built factories. They just got sucked into the boardrooms of white people in the name of BEE,” he said.
“Black people have been abandoned by their own people. The reason why the Afrikaners could solve their problem of poverty is because the elite didn‘t separate itself from the people. The black government is so corrupt, they only take care of themselves.”
Political analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela said that the government of today was in an even better position to empower black people, because of the free and open society, and abundance of resources and skills it could draw from. It hasn‘t, however, up to now, done this properly.
“Freedom is the ability to amass wealth. If political freedom doesn‘t end with the ability to amass wealth, it‘s not worth it,” said Rugani.