Agrarian reform, institutions and livelihood dynamics of emergent livestock farmers in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

  • Lovemore Christopher Gwiriri

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Agriculture in South Africa has historically perpetuated a dual system of freehold commercial and communal subsistence farming. To bridge these extremes, post-apartheid agrarian reform policies have shifted towards neoliberal market approaches aimed at commercialising smallholder agriculture by encouraging the creation of a class of emergent, commercially-oriented farmers. Through an analysis of 120 in-depth interviews and 177 survey questionnaires with emergent and smallholder livestock farmers in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, this thesis employs a Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF) to evaluate the effectiveness of the agrarian reform process in supporting the transition of smallholder farmers into small-scale commercial agriculture.

    As part of this evaluation process, the thesis first critiques the emergent farmer concept and analyses the considerable differentiation that exists within it using a class analytical perspective. The thesis also analyses the efficacy of institutions mandated to support agrarian reform. Specifically, it evaluates the role of Custom Feeding Programmes (CFPs) in enabling smallholder farmer market participation. It also examines the extent to which cooperatives are able to balance democratic function with effective programme delivery by drawing on the principles of democratic decentralisation and governance of institutions. The thesis then evaluates the livelihood trajectories of emergent farmers in their transition to small-scale commercial agriculture. Through mapping a resilience framework on the SLF, the thesis examines the capitals they draw on to facilitate this transition, and whether they become more or less resilient in the process.

    Three broad categories of farmers are identified within the emergent farmer category (subsistence farmers on private land; small-scale commercial farmers; and fully commercialised farmers). The analysis demonstrated that despite having accessed private farms, most of the smallholder farmers analysed show very limited transition to smallscale commercial production, drawing on largely the same capitals to survive as previously, and remaining vulnerable in the process. Only a small group of farmers show an apparent transition to small-scale commercial production and most closely approximate to the emergent farmer class the agrarian reform process is attempting to create, drawing primarily on financial, human and social capital to effect this. However, several of these farmers have drawn upon considerable levels of financial capital in the form of loans or savings, resulting in them being in a more vulnerable position than previously. Also evident is a small elite group of fully commercialised farmers, not necessarily transitioning from one production class to another, but rather diversifying their external financial capital investment into agriculture. The thesis also concludes that while CFPs are effective in systematising informal marketing, both CFPs and cooperatives perpetuate elite capture and exclusion of marginalised farmers through skewed service delivery and weak democratic ethos. CFPs are not well-structured to support smallholder farmers to engage with formal markets, and cooperatives are not effective in enabling equitable access to livelihood capitals to support the transition to small-scale agriculture for most smallholder farmers.

    On this basis, the research recommends that a more nuanced and differentiated approach to agrarian reform policy is required to effectively enable greater broad-based accumulation from below and reduce elite capture. Policy reforms to enable institutions to be better embedded in communities; reduce gender and economic disparity; and effectively balance democracy and service delivery are suggested to enable these institutions to effectively support the agrarian reform process. Broadening agrarian policy in South Africa from its narrow neoliberal focus on economic viability, to encompass more inclusive and sustainable approaches to agrarian livelihoods, will be key in enabling agrarian reform to support and balance livelihood transitions and resilience.
    Date of AwardNov 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorJames Bennett (Supervisor), Sara Burbi (Supervisor) & Cletos Mapiye (Supervisor)

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