South Africa's White Farmers are Migrating Across Sub-Saharan Africa

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Niccolo and Donkey
South Africa's white farmers are moving further north

Guardian UK

Fred Pearse

May 1, 2011

Farmer Francois Mouton on his farm near Coligny, South Africa. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty

They are calling it the next great trek . Almost two centuries after Boers hitched their wagons to oxen and headed inland to establish the South African republic, they are on the move again. This time they are flying – and their destination is the whole of the African continent.

White South African farmers are now being courted by the north, by countries who believe their agricultural expertise can kickstart an agrarian revolution across the continent. They are being offered millions of hectares of allegedly virgin rainforest and bush, as well as land already farmed by smallholders or used as pastures by herders.

In the biggest deal to date, Congo-Brazzaville has offered South Africa farmers long leases on up to 10m hectares of land, an area that includes abandoned state farms and bush in the remote south-west of the country. The first contracts, which put 88,000 hectares in the hands of 70 farmers, were signed at a ceremony in the country last month.

Meanwhile, in Mozambique, some 800 South African farmers have acquired a million hectares in the southern province of Gaza, thanks to an arrangement set up by sugar farmer Charl Senekal, an associate of the South African president, Jacob Zuma. This deal will be celebrated at a ceremony in Pretoria next month.

There have been sporadic moves north by white South African farmers since the end of apartheid. But the current migration is more organised, says Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. "South Africa is exporting [not just] its farmers, but also its value chains, to the rest of the continent," she told a meeting on international land grabs in Brighton last week .

The mass movement is mostly organised by Agri South Africa , an association that represents 70,000 South Africa farmers. Its president, Johannes Moller, made a pitch for new deals at a conference on large-scale farming in Africa, held in Cairo last April. Since then, Agri SA has received offers of land from 22 African countries, says Hall. Along with free land come tax holidays, free rein to export produce and profits, and promises of new roads and power lines – angering local peasants who have never enjoyed such benefits.

Zambia wants South African pioneers to grow maize, and Sudan is offering land and irrigation water to grow sugar cane. Another deal, currently on hold, would see them take over 35,000 hectares of Libya.

With one-third of South Africa's white-owned farmland to be transferred to black owners by 2014, many white South African landowners are keen to find new territory, though most want to keep their home farms as well, says Hall.

The new trek is attracting support from major South African finance houses such as Standard Bank and investment funds such as Emergent Asset Management, a UK-South Africa fund run by former Goldman Sachs high flyer Susan Payne. She claims to be investing in 14 African countries and promises a 30% annual return.

Many African countries believe the new white farmers can end their reliance on food imports. But the farmers and their financiers often have other plans. According to Theo de Jager, Agri SA deputy president and mastermind of the international deals, the farmers in Congo-Brazzaville want to grow more profitable tropical fruit for export to European supermarkets, rather than grains for locals.

Another concern is what land the farmers are being offered. The governments making overtures towards claim there is ample "empty" land – in which case the threat is that forests and other biodiversity hotspots will be gobbled up.

But much of the land is, in reality, already occupied by farmers and pastoralists. While the Congo-Brazzaville government says the land it is handing over to white South Africans has been empty since the closure of state farms more than 10 years ago, Hall says its former owners have returned and are growing cassava and peanuts. Like the original trek, the new invasion is likely to be met with resistance.
Beefy Rep,1518,639224,00.html

This fits very well into the "big picture" of world agriculture. Investors, multinationals, and even sovereign wealth funds are buying up whatever arable land is left in the world at a fantastic rate, and the South African farmers are ideal candidates to have a kind of Africa-wide diaspora to head up the administration of this land under the techniques of mono-crop agriculture. They have the knowledge and ability to handle local populations, the impetus to move, and the mastery of western farming techniques. T he world is facing the necessity of growing more food in the next forty years than in the entire history of human agriculture combined with less fossil fuel inputs, less water, and less arable land than we've had in this past period of the so-called green revolution. This creates the opportunity--in the form of skyrocketing agricultural prices--to move and run these big operations, even if it disenfranchises potentially hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers and sends them packing to the slums.
Niccolo and Donkey
Great post :thumbsup:

Agriculture as the next bubble?
Prices for food, land and equipment have gone up a bunch. This also leaves more room for profit. Profit attracts more investment.

The fundamentals are in place for new credit and loans to pour in here. This *could* be a bubble.

Shitloads in Australia.

Gen. Butt Naked
There's another dimension to this that's potentially more troubling and will certainly have even greater social repercussions.

Samir Amin pointed out in The Liberal Virus (2004) that about half of all human beings currently live as peasants, producing (usually) enough food to feed themselves and to sell at market. The creation of an additional 20,000,000 modern farms will be sufficient to produce enough output to replace what solvent urban consumers currently buy from the world's 3,000,000,000 peasants. While 20,000,000 is a large number, it is a number we are heading toward with initiatives like the one in the OP. The dynamics of employment in modern agriculture are such that the new farms will come nowhere near being able to provide adequate employment for the half of humanity currently working in peasant agriculture. Global agribusiness is in the process of rendering billions of peasants landless and redundant, and--unlike during the European Industrial Revolution--there are insufficient factories and workshops to absorb them. Expect mass rural unrest in the third world to erupt.
But isn't this a good reason for the creation of other industries?

I think it goes both ways. The lack of employment opportunity in agriculture might allow for other industry to employ people towards other means.
Gen. Butt Naked
Half of humanity, dude. 3,000,000,000 people. Pretty sure the free market solution to that level of labor redundancy is a mass die-off. The consumer demand required to re-employ half of the world's population simply does not exist.
I want 450,000 death stars.

Is that enough demand to keep it going?
President Camacho
When all the world is overcharged with inhabitants, then the last remedy of all is war, which provideth for every man, by victory or death.

- Thomas Hobbes