I’ve been getting tweets from folks interested in knowing the share contribution of black farmers to overall agricultural production in South Africa.

The only up-to-date data we have that comes close to responding to this request looks into the separation of key crop production into commercial and non-commercial production. (maize, wheat, etc.).

However, it still doesn’t provide a clear-cut answer to this pending question as it would be unreasonable to assume that all non-commercial farming is done by black farmers. Granted, a large share of it might be smallholder black farmers, but there are also black farmers producing commercially.

The most accurate data I have found regarding agricultural production along racial lines is that of the late Dr George Frederick Liebenberg’s PhD thesis, which has this wonderful table (featured image) showing the relative contribution of black farmer’s to national production. Unfortunately, Liebenberg’s dataset ends in 2002. Here are key points from Liebenberg’s data:

  • The share of farmed (farmed – not to be confused with owned) area by black farmers was 31% in 2002. This area produced less than 4% of field crops such as maize, wheat and sorghum.
  • Similar to other sectors, the share of the country’s livestock held by black farmers had marginally decreased by 2002, particularly sheep and poultry which were estimated at 10% and 29% respectively. However, the most recent estimates presented by trade economist Sifiso Ntombela of the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) suggest that about 40% of cattle in South Africa are owned by emerging and communal black farmers.

Whilst the share contribution by black farmers to agricultural production seems minimal from this data, keep in mind that this was collected 15-years ago. There has definitely been progress in recent past (I’ve highlighted recent progress made in areas such as Matatiele in the Eastern Cape) driven by both government and the private sector.

Essentially, agricultural economists should do a better job in future of maintaining credible databases of transformation and progress of black farmers; that way we can avoid confusion when we discuss agricultural development policy issues, which will no doubt need to be addressed in the coming months given our current political and economic climate.

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