Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

In an exercise to help potential investors make informed decisions in the midst of debate about expropriation of land without compensation, Statistics SA is going around the country to establish the size, structure and economic contribution of commercial farms.

The agency will deploy about 600 field workers around the country from October 15, and hopes to complete the work in June 2019. The results should be published five months later.

The investigators will seek to determine the number, size of farms and crop types being farmed in various areas.

Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke said on Monday that the census was important for helping investors make evidence-based decisions. Maluleke urged farmers to co-operate with the field staff.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation recommends that a country conducts a census of agriculture at least every 10 years.

"The general objective of the census of commercial agriculture is to collect basic quantitative information on South Africa’s agricultural sector and provide a snapshot of the sector. This information is essential for planning, policy formulation, and measuring food security," said Maluleke.

The exercise comes amid debate about land reform and concern that an ANC move to amend the constitution could lead to wholesale expropriation without compensation and threaten food security. However, Stats SA clarified that the census is nothing new and it is not linked to the land expropriation without compensation debate. SA conducted its first census of commercial agriculture in 1918.

There have been warnings that the policy could discourage investment in farms, which would hit growth and lead to job losses in a country that is already battling an unemployment rate of more than 27%.

The push by the ANC to amend section 25 of the constitution to make it clear how land could be expropriated without compensation has spooked investors, and contributed to declines in the rand that pushed it above R15/$.

Parliament has asked a constitutional review committee to review the section as well as other property clauses. The committee has received thousands of submissions.

Agricultural industry body AgriSA has said that evidence suggested talk of expropriation without compensation had caused a significant decline in capital investment in agriculture, while farmers who wanted to sell their properties were struggling to find buyers. President Cyril Ramaphosa said in September that he had appointed the advisory panel to guide the interministerial committee on land reform chaired by his deputy, David Mabuza.

The panel was to suggest models for the government to implement a fair and equitable land-reform process that redressed past injustices, increased agricultural output, promoted economic growth and protected food security, Ramaphosa said.

The agricultural census field staff will count the number of holdings, crop types grown in different geographic regions, and the number of livestock each farm has.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

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