Rethinking Land, Soil, Ownership and Stewardship

‘Land’ is such an amazing theme in the bible. For ancient Israel, the promised land was to be a lasting inheritance, a place of meaningful work and rejuvenating rest, a place of incredible abundance (a land flowing with milk and honey) and a place of prayer and worship for the nations.

Land has become a weapon…

Allow for expropriation of land without compensation.

Unfortunately, land has become a theme to be used as a weapon in the racially charged political landscape of South Africa. A government audit shows that 72% of privately-owned farmland is in the hands of white farmers. The radical left of the political spectrum is screaming for the forced removal of these farmers and for these farms to be given to black South Africans. In response, the governing ANC party has approved, in principle, a process meant to culminate in changes in the constitution – changes that will, in turn, allow for expropriation of farm land without compensation, including currently productive farms that happen to be owned by white farmers. All these changes are still being planned despite the demonstration in neighbouring Zimbabwe that farm land expropriation destroyed the country’s agricultural sector.

What the stats don’t show is that the majority of arable land in South Africa – and certainly much of the best land – is not currently productive. We have driven through miles and miles of what ought to be productive farmland sitting fallow. Why is that?

An urban shantytown in South Africa is a haven for poverty and crime.

Most of these lands have been abandoned. People have given up on farming. Having toiled and toiled (or not), people have walked away from the soil that has produced only crop failure, defeat and despair. They have concluded that they will never succeed in farming, and have flocked to the cities embracing the empty promise of a job and a salary. Massive shantytowns of unemployment, crime, sickness and suffering are the result.

But the conclusions drawn from the failed crops – that the soil will never be fertile, or the rainfall will never be enough – are just plainly incorrect. It is also not true that farming will only be successful if implemented on a large, mechanized scale. It is these methods, mindsets and assumptions that have been wrong; not the soil or lack of rain. God’s creation has always been good at its core; we just need to relearn how work and care for it.

The golden maize after harvest in a small field in Eastern Cape.

And therein lies our opportunity: To show that the land is a gift, and it is good, and that God has given us the means to work and care for it, so that it is able to care for us. We are intentional in reminding ourselves that none of us actually deserve the gift of God’s good land. It is not a right but an inherent privilege to be shared for the benefit of all. We then must accept the clear responsibility to steward what we have been given in a regenerative and sustainable way. Responsible stewardship is a requirement of any type of land ownership. Together, there is an opportunity to invite Africans to learn to be well-equipped farmers and responsible stewards of God’s gift of good land, and to return to ancestral homelands to become successful business people, growing and selling a product that people need every day (usually three times a day!).

A fast food vendor in NYC.

But what about us in the West? It seems that most of us in Western society have, to our detriment, also lost our connection to land, soil, and food production. We have commoditized land and soil, relegating it to a commercial input. Increasingly, our food is becoming factory-produced outputs utilizing chemistry-produced inputs (diesel, fertilizer and GMO’s). And it’s making us physically – and I would argue socially and spiritually – sick. Maybe connection with land and soil was always meant to be part of what it means to be human. Something here to ponder?

These themes, and more, are what the Inundo model farm are all about. Land reform is certainly needed especially where injustices were perpetrated in the attainment of land deeds and ownership. However, assumptions and widely accepted attitudes fueling land reform must be examined and adjusted. Land is not just an asset to hold. It is a living, breathing organism that we are called to partner with. All land owners in Africa, regardless of race, must be called to a higher standard of stewardship of the land. Farming and agriculture are a craft that requires apprenticeship and learning.

Huge erosion gullies now scar agricultural land all over Africa.

The necessary changes needed in South Africa must be on a level far deeper than seizing productive farmland from one ethnic group and giving it to another! A renaissance in regard for the resource of land is required, one that restores the dignity of the farmer, rejuvenates desolate soil, and removes the power plays associated with land ownership. Wise and sustainable stewardship of our land is necessary to prevent the inheritance of future generations from washing away in catastrophic erosion. We would suggest that changing our focus from land ownership to land stewardship is one of the greatest global challenges of our time.

Are you the owner of some land? Have you been given the opportunity to care for a physical resource or some kind of property? How are you stewarding that resource? Is it a place of meaningful work and rejuvenating rest, a place of incredible abundance (a land flowing with milk and honey) and a place of prayer and worship for the nations? What will you do with your promised land?

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Flourishing Land, Flourishing People, Flourishing Communities.

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