Africa courts the white farmers north

An organisation named Agri South Africa, which represents over 70,000 South African farmers, is organising a mass movement of white SA farmers in conjunction with several African nations who believe that their expertise could kick-start an agrarian revolution across the continent.

These farmers are being offered millions of hectares of land in places such as Congo-Brazzaville, where the government is offering farmers from South Africa long leases on up to 10m hectares of land in an area which includes abandoned state farms and bush. A similar, if smaller, deal has been struck in Mozambique.

There have been similar sporadic moves north by white farmers since the end of apartheid in 1994, but this is the first time that a wave of immigration has been so well organised. With a third of white-owned farms in South Africa to be transferred to black owners by the year 2014, the urgency for whites to move on to ‘greener pastures’, as it were, is very real. This ‘New Trek’ has the support of several major SA finance bodies such as Standard Bank.

Nonetheless, there are some major concerns. One of these is that, while many of the African states involved hope to lessen their reliance on imported foods, South African farmers are most interested in growing profitable tropical fruit crops for exports to Europe, rather than growing grain for local consumption.

As well as this, it is not entirely clear what kind of land is being offered. The Congo-Brazzaville government says the land it is handing over to the white South Africans has been empty since the closure of state farms a decades ago. Others report that former owners have already returned to grow cash crops.

It won’t be a smooth run, that’s for sure. As a friend of mine from SA often says: “It’s hell in Africa”.

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