II-1. Commercial Farming and Agribusiness in South Africa and Their Changing Roles in Africa’s Agro-Food System

Conveners: Ruth Hall (University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa); e-mail: rhall@uwc.ac.za; Ben Cousins (University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa)

Spurred by rapid deregulation and liberalisation, the overall trajectory of agrarian change in South Africa over the past two decades has seen consolidation of the hegemony of large-scale commercial farming and corporate agri-business within agricultural value chains. Ownership and control have become highly concentrated and centralised, high-tech production systems are focused on lucrative new crops and markets, and employment continues to decline. In a context of constrained domestic demand due to high levels of poverty and emerging opportunities for geographic diversification, both farming and agribusiness capitals are now expanding into various African countries. By so doing they are promoting agro-food systems centred on the dominance of large capital. This is evident in the financialisation of agriculture and the emergence of South African-based ‘farmland funds’; the growing influence of multinational and South African input supply industries; the prevalence of land deals premised on the expansion of industrial farming systems; interest in South African models of food processing, manufacture, logistics and distribution; and the rapidly expanding reach of South African supermarkets and fast food chains. But South African capital has also encountered substantial obstacles to entry, and been challenged by competition in destination markets, both in and from other middle-income countries with expanding agro-food industries of their own. Civil society activists are beginning to question capital-centred agro-food systems. Success as a regional hegemon in Africa’s agro-food system is thus far from assured.