You can bet the farm on giving land to women, says expert
Rural land reform professor makes a convincing case for 'smallholdings' to Ramaphosa's land advisory panel
If a “smallholdings” model for land reform in rural areas is implemented, women living outside of metropoles could finally realise the sustainable livelihoods that eluded them during apartheid and after its fall.
Last week, a land reform convention at the University of the Western Cape saw different models being proposed ahead of a meeting with a land reform advisory panel under President Cyril Ramaphosa’s watch.
One of these models, proposed by Professor Michael Aliber of the University of Fort Hare, posits the vast majority of redistributed land as smallholdings rather than large-scale farms.
In this model, only 5% of land is distributed for large-scale farming. For small-scale farmers 20% of land is distributed, with the majority of land (75%) going towards settlements on smallholdings.
“I’m certain that women would benefit from the approach I am proposing because of its emphasis on settlement and small-scale farming,” says Aliber. “We know that even more so than men, most women who want land want small amounts for tenure and food security, so, by virtue of catering to the demand of settlement-oriented projects in large numbers, it would open up the possibility of women benefiting a great deal.”
This would then have to be monitored.
“It would then just require a clear eye to make sure that women do in fact benefit,” he said. “The sorts of settlement-oriented and small-scale-farmer-focused projects I’m endorsing will have to be implemented with government taking the lead, perhaps assisted by non-government organisations and community-based organisations.”
This means it would not be “left to the chance of the market, wherein we often find that relatively well-off, well-connected people benefit more, thus squeezing out women, for instance”.
One of the current challenges is the gap between the proposed beneficiary of land and the actual beneficiary. This means that sometimes women are the beneficiaries “on paper” only.
“The usual approach is that government has targets and then records numbers, but it is not easy in practice to know what this means because beneficiaries are sometimes whole households, and one isn’t sure who is actually benefiting with those households,” he said.
Also, often the official beneficiaries are not the actual beneficiaries, in the sense that land might be transferred to a group of individuals, but down the line it may well be only one or two of these individuals actually involved or deriving benefits, or in fact it may be other people altogether.
If it is implemented, it could provide the relief that rural women have sought for decades.
According to the Women on Farms Project (WFP), far less land has been redistributed by the government than what was promised, and, most importantly, the land that has been redistributed has primarily gone to men.
“Despite government rhetoric about prioritising black women’s access to land, there are no gender equity mechanisms which actually recognise the unequal gender and power relations which affect access and control over land and resources. Thus, the rural landscape has largely remained unchanged in terms of gender, class and land ownership,” according to the organisation.
This has been exacerbated by the approximately one million farmworkers who were evicted from commercial farms in the first decade of democracy and, according to WFP, women farm labourers were particularly hard hit because they “face specific housing and tenure insecurities arising from the patriarchal practice where a farm woman’s housing rights are tied to the (permanent) labour contract of her male partner”.