Reuel Khoza is a Farmer and the Chairman of Aka Capital and the Nedbank Group. His Family Trust owns a 200-hectare export avocado and macadamia farm in the highlands near Hazyview and is a 50% partner in the export pack house HL Hall & Sons.
“The reason I wanted to farm is because I was a rustic herd boy until the age of 17. I was raised by my grandparents who farmed cattle, mielies, groundnuts, pumpkins and African beans on the communal land around Bushbuckridge and Acornhoek, at a place called Emnombeleni, meaning ‘wild litchi’. We would inspan the cattle the old way and I have always wanted to return to farming.
The farm we bought three years ago is in a highly productive area where together with ten other farmers in the area we export an average of 1.1-million trays of avocados each year. The pack house is on our farm and our largest export market is France, Germany and Britain. More recently we started exporting to Dubai and Russia.
My approach to farming and business in general is to only partner with people with expertise and a proven track record. The farmers in our area really know how to produce and when we bought our farm I was completely upfront that my wife and I are in the learning mode. For this approach I can thank my late father who told me: ‘In any new environment you need to use your intelligence to step back and learn from those with experience who show results’.
The farmers, who are mainly Afrikaans, welcomed us and treated us as their buurman. They have shared their knowledge, experience and hospitality in every way. When the Trust bought the farm nobody knew that I have another job at the bank. They simply saw me as a new farmer wanting to make a go of things and they were there to help.
In this time of food security I think the government and emerging black farmers would do well to appreciate how much goodwill there is out there amongst white commercial farmers, and to adopt my father’s approach. Farming is expensive and highly complex, and if you try to go it alone without expertise, you will fail at great cost.
To the new black farmers who don’t have the necessary knowledge and experience I say you are well advised to be humble and to seek to learn. The established farmers will respond to you and help you to build a solid foundation. I know because I am still in the learning mode.
To the government I urge you to hang onto all the white commercial farmers in South Africa you still have. When it comes to food security you should be stopping at nothing to support all our farmers. Sort out the backlog of farms that have already been negotiated for land reform and sort out the outstanding payments before these farms become unproductive.
In the area where we farm many land reform deals are still pending. Without resolution in sight, a significant number of commercial subtropical fruit farmers are waiting in no man’s land for a deal to be reached. In the meantime they have been invited over the border into Mozambique where they are establishing large commercial banana plantations.
The President of Mozambique and the Ministry of Agriculture are encouraging them to farm there and helping them in every way, from the provision of fertile land to assisting with infrastructure and getting water to their farms.
It is by no means an easy environment because they start from scratch, sod turning without any infrastructure, which means substantial capital outlay. But they are succeeding and they are already exporting a fair amount. The bulk of the banana harvest is currently sent to Joburg, to several countries in southern Africa and abroad. The yield will substantially grow because they are producing in a politically supportive environment.
If I was in charge of Land Reform in South Africa I would take serious note of the potential loss of expertise and income, and there are several steps I would immediately take:
I would immediately set about establishing a supportive environment for commercial farmers in South Africa. At the same time I would conduct a needs analysis of the food requirements for South Africa and of our food export potential to bring in revenue to the fiscus. From here I would look at the human resources necessary to achieve this, and start working on developing this without delay.
I would immediately investigate the downward slide of many of our agricultural institutions and I would establish a substantial amount of farming projects where agricultural graduates or young emerging farmers with potential and a desire to farm can be mentored by experienced farmers. The University of Limpopo, for example, has many agricultural graduates but there are insufficient plans or projects in place to help them develop from here.
I would immediately set about transforming the communal land system into a system of title deeds and land ownership. I am well aware of the enormity of this task but it is indisputable that ownership develops a sense of pride and value in the land. Many people say the traditional chiefs would oppose this but I say they would be amazed at how co-operative many of the respected traditional chiefs would be. They too want to develop, and I am now assisting several respected chiefs in Mpumalanga to grow their Nguni cattle farming business. They see the opportunities and they know their needs.
There are so many ‘immediate’ scenarios that should have been addressed by the government by now. In synopsis, I believe it is the duty of our political leaders to be guided by what is in the best national interest, as opposed to short-term or selfish interests that destroy food security in our land. It goes without saying that if you create a mountain of bureacracy, and you keep making it higher, people will eventually walk away.”