, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

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The Wildlife Economy and Agrarian Transformation in the Context of the Deepening Land Question in South Africa
Tariro Kamuti

Last modified: 2018-12-14


The increase in wildlife ranching (game farming) has spawned a number of issues surrounding the character and trajectory of the private wildlife ranching sector in relation to local and global contexts.  Wildlife resources are anchored on land which is subject to fierce debate given the recent passing of a parliamentary motion of 'expropriation of land without compensation' as part of the means to redressing the persistent skewed ownership of land in South Africa. This is amidst increased investment in the wildlife economy witnessed through the deepening of the supply and demand value chains based on wildlife on privately owned land. This development in the wildlife economy is backed by tacit government support through recognition of wildlife ranching as an agricultural activity by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the recent adoption of the Biodiversity Economy Strategy by the Department of Environmental Affairs. The development of the wildlife economy is also in line with massive investment leading to rapid growth of agribusiness in South Africa that is also spreading throughout the African continent to the extent of land grabs. This paper seeks to explore the role and influence of the emerging wildlife economy in shaping South Africa's deepening agrarian question. The paper adopts an institutional approach incorporating a theory of access by Jesse Ribot and Nancy Peluso in analysing the developments in the wildlife economy in the context of the broad agrarian sector. Using documentary evidence relating to key issues and players linked to the private wildlife ranching sector, the paper concludes that wildlife capital seem to have forged to sway the agrarian question in its favour through discourses of the need to respect property rights and not disrupting the current levels of agricultural production. However, the growing populist call for transformation in the wildlife economy as part of the broad agrarian question is starting to rattle this discourse. It remains to be seen how far the transformative interventions stipulated in the Biodiversity Economy Strategy and the broad measures around land reform will go to shape the trajectory of the much needed transformation in South Africa's agrarian question.

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