Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development Budget Vote debate

Patricia ‘O Neill-Coutts MPL

Northern Cape Provincial Legislature

Hon. Speaker, Hon. Premier, Hon. members, guests in the gallery

The vision of the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development is, and I quote, “a transformed, vibrant agricultural sector for food security and sustainable rural development”.  This objective should inspire the budgetary process of this department. But instead, it appears that this vision is nothing more than an illusion.

Institutional dysfunction has resulted in this department having regressed from an unqualified opinion with findings, to a qualified audit opinion in 2011/2012. Largely responsible for this, was the fact that there was inappropriate audit evidence for expenditure of over R135 million. This is our first point of concern. Secondly, is the fact that this department underspent its conditional grants by 57%. Poor financial management directly impacts on service delivery. If you snooze, you lose!

And in effect, it is our farmers who suffer the most.  During his budget speech last year, the Hon. Shushu announced that the Northern Cape was allocated over R1 billion, to be distributed over the MTEF for flood relief. However, in 2012/2013, the department spent only R86 million of the R353 million allocation dedicated for flood relief. As a result of this massive underspending, flood relief assistance has been significantly cut by 26% for the new financial year. So once again, if you don’t use it, you lose it!

This rampant underspending also serves to highlight a much deeper problem, namely the department’s disastrous management of disasters. The DA has been raising this issue for years. The department in turn has been making excuses for years. They have been unjustifiably slow to comply with relevant legislation and to implement appropriate plans. This is evident from the fact that the Disaster Management Plan has still not been finalized, that the department has not budgeted for the drought scheme, or that famers affected by raging veld fires late last year, are still waiting for the Koopmansfontein to be declared a disaster area and, that in general, the department’s post-disaster response is slow. Droughts, floods and fire are historically characteristic of the Northern Cape landscape. Plans to mitigate natural disasters should have been tabled long ago and they must now be implemented urgently.

Hon. Speaker, the MEC must explain to farmers whether officials responsible for this underspending have indeed been held liable?

Instead of helping farmers, it seems that the department is more intent on recapitalizing land reform projects that have had a low rate of success in the past and of which sustainability is questionable at best.

  • The Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme is a case in point. The findings of a study conducted way back in 2007, found that the production of the redistributed land at the Vaalharts Scheme was at a very low level compared to other farms in the area and that a large percentage of the land has never been planted since transfer. Six years later, the department is still trying to get this initiative on track and this year, the Vaalharts Revitalization will receive R16 million towards this end.
  • After a number of years, the controversial Kalahari Kid project is still being fully sustained via the state, this year receiving R2,5 million from the department’s Technology Research and Development programme. These funds merely cover the running costs of the project, which has apparently just been registered as a “private entity”.  It should be self sufficient – surely.
  • The Rooibos tea project has been on the payroll for years. To date, the department has spent over R200 million on this initiative. This year, the department has allocated R500 000 towards production inputs of seeds and fuel.

Hon. Speaker, the MEC must tell us when these projects will finally become self sustaining?   Grants should be provided to beneficiaries as start-up for production, but they are not supposed to be infinite and last forever and ever.

On a larger scale, the above examples also raise concerns regarding the help provided to emerging farmers. Close on 470 000 hectares of land in the Northern Cape (which is almost equivalent to a quarter of the size of the whole of the Gauteng province), has been transferred to 21 805 beneficiaries. However, emerging and subsistence farmers produce only 5% of the country’s food. In other words, efforts to assist emerging farmers to operate economically without subsidization, are failing dismally.

At the same time, support to farm workers is questionable. This can especially be seen against the backdrop that this department has not even attempted to devise a provincial mitigation strategy to deal with the potentially catastrophic effects of looming job losses in the agricultural sector. In the Western Cape, the farm equity share scheme model has been successfully rolled out. These schemes allow farmers the option of selling their land through a share ownership scheme. This enables farm workers to buy a percentage of the farm, using money allocated by national government for land reform. These schemes help to ensure the success of new farmers, which has a positive impact on agricultural production, and in turn, the economy.

In addition to implementing an equity-share scheme, the DA proposes that the provincial department also:

1.  Provides for more intense programmes that prepare workers for the gradual mechanization of farms;

2.  Speeds up the land reform process and the privatization of communally owned land and transfers the ownership of land to those individuals who are passionate about living on the land and working on it (because they understand it);

3.  And makes greater financial investments into the research of improved production techniques, which will enable farmers to be more cost effective and produce higher yields.

Hon. Speaker, the DA believes that the agricultural sector in the Northern Cape retains its potential to form the backbone of our economy. However, as long as the ANC government is in power, it will be virtually impossible to turn the agricultural sector around. This is because the government still does not have a provincial economic development model through which transferred land and projects can become productive, and therefore they remain largely underutilized, unsustainable and economically unviable . And as a result, the department is failing in its objectives.

For this reason, the DA cannot accept Budget Vote 12.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *