Agriculture Budget Vote debate

Gerda Moolman MPL

DA Northern Cape Spokesperson for Agriculture

Honourable Speaker, Honourable acting Premier, Honourable members, guests in the gallery, the media

Conditions in the agricultural sector have become increasingly insecure. Issues impacting on this sector include reforms of labour regulations, the elusive land reform policy and policy changes relating to, amongst other things, mining on farm land. Growing risks, like irregular weather conditions and animal diseases, as well as challenges in the form of input costs, such as electricity and water tariff hikes, are also making it more and more difficult to make a profit in the agricultural sector.

With commercial farmers, farm workers, small scale subsistence farmers and land reform beneficiaries all finding themselves under an increasing amount of pressure, the key question here today should be whether the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development will, through its budget, be able to offer optimal support to all affected stakeholders?

In an attempt to shed light on this matter, I will take a look at the three core mandates of this department, as presupposed by the department’s title, namely: agriculture; land reform; and rural development.

1. AGRICULTURE:

Let’s begin with agriculture…

According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, in another 40 years, many parts of the world will have run out of water for farming and it is now estimated that more than 40% of the world’s rural population lives in river basins that are physically water scarce.

Hon. Speaker, there can be no doubt that the management of risks is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. The ever-growing population, economic and environmental losses due to natural or human-made disasters, exacerbated by a changing climate, necessitate a systemic approach to the management of risks. This is where the DA’s concerns come in:

• Farmers affected by last year’s devastating floods are still waiting for assistance from the department. While we accept that the department only received the flood relief money in November last year, it is now nearing the end of May. We thus fail to understand the ongoing delay in utilizing these funds.

We were told by the department that they must first conduct surveys and engage with supply chain management before the money can be allocated. What then was the point of surveys and assessments done shortly after the floods, when the extent of the devastation was realized? And, knowing full well that they would eventually receive flood relief, why has the department seemingly been sitting on its laurels, waiting to establish the amount, instead of already devising plans, based on a needs analysis, to put the money to good use?

We were told by the department that the R131 million in flood relief money and the total of R1 billion to be received over the three year MTEF period, is a lot of money to spend. We were also told that after the 1998 floods, it took the department as long as six years to implement the flood relief money. As far as the DA is concerned, this is unacceptable.

It appears that this department is faced with a dire case of analysis paralysis. The department’s inability to spend its allocations is cause for serious concern. If capacity is a problem within this department, then capacity must be bolstered as a priority because under-spending in state departments has the potential to cripple service delivery and, in this case, the agricultural sector, especially when it comes to disaster management programmes.

2. LAND REFORM:

Next, onto the issue of land reform…

While this is not a provincial competency per say, providing post settlement support to communities who have received land, is. However, while nationally only 8% of the 30% target land redistribution for 2014 has to date been distributed, the provincial department already cannot keep up in providing such support. This can be seen in numerous implementation problems.

A case in point is that of the Richtersveld. Without getting into the merits of this case, I wish to state for the benefit of the Hon. Shushu, that at the recent budget vote presentation by this department on the 3rd of May 2012, at which the Hon. Shushu was absent, I highlighted my concerns regarding the liquidation of the Richtersveld farms and the sale thereof the very next day. In response, the HOD told the committee that he was aware of this matter and that “someone was working on it as we speak”. I then asked the HOD whether he could assure the committee that the land would not be auctioned off. He said “the department will do everything in its power to prevent this”. Thereafter, the Hon. Galela went as far as instructing the department to seek an urgent court interdict, if necessary.

So you see, Hon. Speaker, the matter was not clarified for the sake of the committee. Instead, we were led to believe that a very real threat did in fact exist and that the land could be sold off. Should anyone wish to challenge me on this matter, consult the Hansard transcription of this meeting.

Thus, imagine my surprise when, in a scathing media attack by the head of the office of the Hon. MEC, I was accused of “distorting the facts and misleading the public”. I was also accused of suggesting a don’t-care-attitude from the department; leading a disinformation campaign against the department; and, I quote, “of being hung up on colonial anthropology believing that anything that the black democratic government touches is bound to fail”.

Hon. Speaker, I am greatly offended by this derisive attack on my person. Unlike others, however, I will not stoop to name-calling when the going gets tough. This said, regardless of the merits or demerits of the Richtersveld case, the fact remains that land reform is suffering. Wet 43 van 83 bepaal dat die departement van landbou die bewaarder van alle landbou grond is. The capability of Communal Property Associations remains questionable. And support in the form of infrastructure, training and monitoring, has been hopelessly inadequate.

On its own, the objective of redistributing land to correct the injustices of the past does not necessarily improve the lives of those who are supposed to benefit from the process. Successful farming requires not only money but also access to agricultural extension services; training and capital for land development. It is imperative that those who receive the land as part of the land reform process have access to these services. Yet this aspect has been sorely neglected.

The DA proposes that agricultural extension offices be made directly accountable to farmers in order to create a more demand-driven extension service. This will in turn develop creative training and mentorship programmes focusing on skills development.

At the same time, building capacity in the department to monitor land reform, and intervene early in order to prevent projects from collapsing, is critical. While we concede that there has been an improvement in the department’s monitoring and evaluation unit, it is, however, still not fully capacitated. Commitment towards this end is required, if government does not wish to leave the dreams of beneficiaries in tatters.

3. RURAL DEVELOPMENT:

Last but not least, let’s talk about rural development.

The department’s purpose in this regard is to coordinate the provision of social and economic infrastructure and facilitate sustainable livelihood programmes in rural areas.

– The DA recognizes the policy shift of the department to put more emphasis on job creation, the development of smallholder producers, and implementation of the Zero Hunger Programme. It is, however, our opinion that the department cannot afford to lose focus of the key role of the department – namely food security and sustainable land use. We thus need to question whether the erection of solar lighting in Schmidtsdrift or the developmental needs of communities such as Heuningvlei and Bucklands, in the form of water, electricity, roads, housing and sanitation, are really the mandate of this department?

Also, while the DA understands that the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme doesn’t have a dedicated budget, and that the onus is on government departments to develop innovative ways of funding these projects, the DA remains concerned that, considering the department’s limited capacity, the department is overextending itself.

– Last but not least, it’s disturbing to see just how few rural development projects are sustainable, especially when the funding dries up.

A case in point is the olive project in Jan Kempdorp. I first informed the Hon. Shushu about my misgivings surrounding this project in February 2010. On a visit to the area, I found that while the land had been cleared, no trees were planted, the pump stations were vandalised and there were problems regarding the beneficiaries. Last year, to my horror, I found that the conditions had worsened. And this year, while I didn’t believe that the conditions could get any worse, I was informed that the tractor had not been moved since my last visit. There is also a deadlock between the department and the beneficiaries, whose contracts are due to be renewed soon. This project, like so many others, can only be described as a dismal failure. What then is the point of the department pumping additional millions of rands into the revitalization of such projects. Even more bizarre, is that failed projects such as these are also receiving funding from different entities, such as the Department of Economic Development.

Throwing money into unsustainable projects will do little to further the cause of food security or the sustainable use of our land. Government is by no means a bottomless well of money – it’s high time this department realizes this.

Having been a farmer myself, nothing would give me more joy than to see that each and every project of this department succeeds so that our people can be uplifted through rural development. That each and every beneficiary will be proud of his achievements. That all members of cooperatives can sleep soundly at night knowing that they could provide for their families. That each and every up and coming farmer can fulfill his dream of graduating to a full scale farmer. That each and every commercial farmer will know that this department is doing its utmost best to, through its policies and regulations, establish food security as far as possible.

Thank you.

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