In March this year, deputy minister of rural development and land reform, Joe Phaahla, said that under-utilised game farms could be targeted for land restitution purposes.
Phaahla told parliament that it was unacceptable to have vast tracts of land that are not contributing to food security, while there are so many people that are land hungry. In a press statement on the issue, Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) president, Dr Gert Dry said, "I don't know where the minister gets the idea that game ranches are under-utilised.
The vast majority of South Africa's game farms are highly productive, contributing almost R5 billion a year to the country's gross domestic product."
Dr Dry says the game ranchers are deeply conscious of the pressure on government to make more land available for the land-hungry masses, but feel that politicians and officials are targeting a potential ally.
"Game ranching is the perfect solution to land restitution challenges," said Dr Dry. "Game ranching is ideally suited to South Africa's arid land conditions and developmental agenda. The wildlife ranching industry has already transformed more than 20 million hectares of marginal agricultural land into thriving game ranches, thus enhancing food production units, attracting tourists, creating jobs and developing rural communities."
The association asserts that a well-run game ranch is a key contributor to the local economy through game viewing, hunting, hiking, lodges, conference centres, adventure trails and meat production. A typical game ranch generates approximately R220 of economic activity per hectare, compared to an average R80/ha for conventional livestock farming.
Wildlife ranches in South Africa employ more than 100 000 workers, paying on average three times more than conventional agriculture.
Dr Dry said WRSA has been corresponding with the departments of agriculture and rural affairs for many months, offering to partner on land reform and rural economic development through ecotourism, job creation and skills development.
"South Africa has approximately 12 million hectares of over-grazed communal land that could offer a sustainable income stream for rural communities who are willing to establish multi-purpose game ranches," he said.
"We have the skills, experience and desire to help emerging farmers. With a little help and support, newly settled farmers can become successful game ranchers.
We already have an indication from SANParks that surplus animals from the national parks could be made available for emerging farmers or communities who wish to establish game ranches."