A LARGE number of farms in South Africa are no longer being used to produce food – a cause of huge concern following one of the worst droughts in the country's history.

Pursuing a land reform agenda, the South African government bought up 6469 farms, but has so far leased out only 3172 of them for agricultural use.

Local politicians have written to Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development Thoko Didiza on several occasions to ask questions about the state-owned agricultural land in each province and why it has not been leased to farmers.

Economist Johann Bornman, who conducted the first full land audit since 1994 two years ago, commented: "Half of the productive agricultural land that the state has purchased for land reform has been taken out of production.

“The loss of production comes as the agricultural industry tries to survive one of the worst droughts the country has had in decades and there is tremendous uncertainty among investors about property rights due to plans to amend the Constitution.”

According to Mr Bornman's audit, by the end of 1998, the government owned about 2.35 million hectares of agricultural land purchased for land reform, based on the promise of land restitution to empower farm workers and reduce inequality.

It was hoped that previously unemployed people would be able to participate in the economy, however instead, failure of the redistribution policy has been claimed to have failed around 50% of land reform projects.