In the late 1990s representatives of the Ashton Small Farmers Association approached the DLA to acquire land through the land reform programme.  The primary objective of the farmers was to use the land for livestock grazing and semi intensive broiler and pig production. 

The farm Sandfontein, near Bonnievale was eventually acquired on their behalf. The beneficiaries were advised to register a Trust as the land holding entity and appoint Trustees to provide leadership and manage Trust assets.

Like many land redistribution projects in the early years of land reform, large numbers of beneficiaries were pooled together so that their combined grants would enable purchase of the land and leverage enough funding to capitalise production. In the Ashton project 147 beneficiaries from 87 households were registered.  However it appears that many of these were just names on paper assembled to secure the grant.

Consultants appointed to prepare a business plan stated that they had prepared a project which is “viable and economically sustainable with an acceptable level of risk.” However this view was not shared by members of the local commercial farming community who expressed doubts about the suitability of the land, highlighting that the previous owners had all failed to make a living from the property which was said to lack adequate water.

Although the Provincial Department of Agriculture (PDA) was involved in initial attempts to assess the land which the beneficiaries identified, AFSA leadership rejected their advice which was that they should enter into a joint venture with a commercial farmer. Thereafter it appears that PDA disengaged, providing no further advice and support to the project which went ahead without their active involvement.

With the handover of the farm in May 2002 DLA entered into a transfer of funds agreement with the attorney approved by the Trust and a consultant was appointed by the trust to disburse the LRAD balance of grant. A farm manager was employed; poultry and piggery projects were started, livestock and equipment were purchased. Some people from the beneficiary group were employed to work on the farm. However it was quickly established that there was a critical shortage of water and despite significant expenditure on drilling boreholes no water was found. The shortage of water impacted on the project viability.  This was also set back by the untimely death of the farm manager.  This combination of factors contributed to an environment increasingly characterized by membership disputes and allegations of financial mismanagement.  Many of the people who were registered members of the project never visited the farm or even knew where it was.

In 2004 some members called a meeting at which many of the original trustees were ousted. However the disputed legitimacy of this process together with the fact that the new Trustees were never registered with the Master of the High Court as required by the Trust Property Control Act and the Trust Deed created a legal and leadership vacuum with respect to decision-making on the project.  As different projects collapsed so livestock, equipment and other assets were allegedly improperly disposed of by individual members for personal gain.

A number of attempts were made to resuscitate the project. The PDA was brought in to once more to review the farm plan and identify options. In 2005 DLA organized an AGM where it polled members on what they would like to do with the land.  They opted to sell the property, but this decision was not implemented by the Trustees.  In 2006 some members of the Trust engaged a service provider to review what the land could best be used for. Recommendations were made but were not implemented partly due to the ongoing leadership crisis and the lack of financial resources.  Today the farm lies vacant and abandoned while the Trust has accumulated unpaid debts.  The only source of income is from a neighbour who is reported to be leasing grazing on the property. Recently some members with the assistance of the DLA and the municipality have set out to resuscitate the Trust.  New Trustees have recently been elected who must now finally determine whether it is possible to make a new start or whether the project should be wound up.

Phuhlisani Solutions has just signed an agreement with the new Trustees whereby we will provide 17 professional days without charge to examine the feasibility of redesigning and rescusitating the enterprise. At the same time Phuhlisani Solutions is engaging with the DLA, PDA and other actors to consider the gaps in policy and practice with respect to be resuscitation or wind up of failed/struggling land reform projects.

Farm dam
Farm dam
Boyce Williams talks to farm dweller family
Boyce Williams talks to farm dweller family
Empty farmhouse
Empty farmhouse
Google earth image of Sandfontein
Google earth image of Sandfontein

Agreement signed 5th June 2008

Boyce Williams, Rick de Satge and Phuhlisani Associate Mike Murray met with some of the Trustees on the Sandfontein farm on 5th June.

The Trustees and Phuhlisani signed an agreement where Phuhlisani undertook to:

  • meet with trustees and members of the project, representatives of the Department of Land Affairs, the Provincial Department of Agriculture, the Municipality, local farmers and other role players as appropriate in order to obtain information, plans and documents which will help establish the history and background of the project and enable a shared understanding of the current situation;

  • try to secure the involvement of relevant government departments in the review and planning process so as to ensure that whatever is decided on the project will have their input and support in future;

  • engage an agricultural resource economist who is a Phuhlisani Associate to review plans prepared by other agencies, visit the property and prepare a set of options which will enable trustees to make a decision on the future of the project;

Phuhlisani has undertaken to develop practical options for project recovery which reflect the current financial situation on the project (including current debt, the state of the buildings, equipment and other assets remaining on the farm) and which will set out projected costs, benefits, technical implications and management requirements associated with each.

These options will be presented to the members and trustees together with representatives of the DLA, the PDA and the municipality to enable the trustees and members to make informed decisions on the way forward.

Involving DWAF to investigate options for improved water access

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has developed policies and programmes to assist resource poor farmers. Given that one of the critical constraints facing the project is the availability of water for agricultural purposes Phuhlisani approached John Roberts, Catchment Manager for the Breede River for assistance.

From our interaction it was clear that the relationship between the Department of Land Affairs and DWAF had not been very effective in the planning phase of the project, once again highlighting the negative consequences of a fragmented approached to land reform planning, delivery and settlement and implementation support.

However DWAF has agreed to put a proposal to the Co-ordinating Committee on Agricultural Water which is a joint provincial and natiuonal government committee which assesses proposed agricultural water schemes, approves water licences for Resource Poor Farmer Projects and makes recommendations on their funding.

DWAF's proposal to CCAW is that they should consiuder a two fold appointment of a civil engineeering consultant with hydrology and dam design experience and a professional hyrdo geologist is investigate dam construction and rehabilitation on the farm and assess groundwater options on the property. This proposal will be discussed at the next meeting of the Committee.


Thinking through the options

The Phuhlisani team has been working to develop options for the Ashton Small Farmers Trust. These options were presented at a meeting with some of the Trustees on Friday 27th June. Trustees will now meet to discuss these further before presenting the options to the beneficiaries for a decision on the way forward.

Developing the options has been a challenging process which has demanded a close up examination of the environmental and economic limitations of the project together with its  complex history and unresolved social dynamics.

While the project has 147 registered beneficiaries Phuhlisani estsimates that at present it can only provide meaningful livelihood benefits for about 5 households. This calls for a combination of honest appraisal and creative thinking. Phuhlisani has presented production options which combine low tech gravity fed small scale irrigation of potatoes and cabbage using available infrastructure on the farm, a small scale broiler unit selling live birds in local townships and the rearing of sheep to utilise available grazing.  Options have been costed and proposals made for how they can be capitalised.  

The key challenge is not technical. Rather it is how to address the issue of rights and benefits in  a transparent and sustainable way given the low rate of return projected from the project. There are different ways to address this, but each requires tough decisions to be taken.

  • There is a potential welfare option where the principle benefits of the project are in the form of casual employment for unemployed members.  However this is of doubtful sustainability.
  • The second option involves identifying a core group of not more than 16 members committed to managing and farming the property and buying out members no longer interested in farming by applying for an LRAD top up grant.
  • This option could be combined with a third option which could involve selling off a portion of the property which consists of three portions to raise capital for production and/or the buyout of further members
  • A fourth option involves developing tight terms of reference and advertising for expressions of interest from prospective joint venture partners with capital and management expertise to invest in the property and selecting the best deal.
  • A fifth option involves calling it quits and selling the property. Those still intersted in farming could use their share of the sale to add to a top up LRAD grant to purchase another property and develop a realistic plan to derive livelihood benefits from it.

Phuhlisani has presented production and institutional options to the members of the Trust. However it is clear that what is required is a comprehensive programme of institutional development and rights determination with the membership to enable things to go forward. This is currently beyond our pro-bono capacity. We are exploring the provision of such support under the strategic partnership agreement we have with DLA.

Posted: 5/31/2008 (3:45:17 PM)

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