Analysis: The Impact of COVID-19 on Black Farmers in South Africa
The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to disrupt societies. In South Africa it has caused millions to lose jobs and incomes. At the same time food prices have been going up, leaving more people food insecure. But the agricultural sector has also recorded bumper harvests and increased exports, creating an impression that farmers may be benefiting.
In my recent research paper I looked at the experiences of black fresh produce farmers in the country since the outbreak COVID-19 and the government’s responses.
The agricultural sector in South Africa continues to be dominated by a small number of large, still mostly white owned, farms and increasingly also by large agribusiness corporations. The limited role of black farmers is a result of years of land dispossession under apartheid and the failure of post-apartheid reforms to bring substantial change. It is estimated that just 7,000 farmers (almost all white) account for over 80% of the value of agricultural production, while around 2 million black households are involved in agriculture on small pieces of land without access to markets.
Giving particular attention to black farmers is, therefore, essential to address the continued high levels of wealth and race based inequalities. In addition, an approach to food production and distribution that is based on a granular understanding of black farmers and the networks they are part of is crucial given the urgent need for more black farmers to succeed in South Africa as part of the transformation of the agricultural sector.