Mark Steele, MPP
DA KZN Spokesperson on Agriculture
KwaZulu-Natal’s agriculture department must get serious about empowering farmers and growing production. It must stop playing political games and start engaging with stakeholders – and above all it must take its own oversight committee seriously.
This is the message from the DA as the department’s budget comes under scrutiny after having been spent in three apparent areas – the good, the bad and the plain misguided.
On the good, veterinary services saw targets either hugely exceeded (e.g. anthrax vaccinations) or under achieved (rabies and poultry vaccinations). In the latter programme, the department administered 327 000 of its target number of 480 000 vaccinations. Problems appear to be management related and the department simply does not know how many such operations it will perform in the future year and so it cannot set accurate targets. There needs to be a proper capture and sterilisation campaign against stray dogs in rural areas and another widespread vaccination campaign to prevent further outbreaks in the coming summer months.
On the bad – the department’s response to issues of concern is unacceptable. During a hearing with the Black Farmers Association several months ago the lack of support by Department officials and extension officers was raised. To date there has been no report to the portfolio committee on this.
In March this year, the DA submitted a parliamentary question to the MEC, asking how many meetings he had held with representatives of organised agriculture in KZN i.e. Kwanalu, the SA Cane Growers, Forestry SA, SA Poultry Association, SA Red Meat producers etc since the To date there has been no response. The DA fears that the answer may be ‘none at all’.
At a portfolio committee meeting on 3 February members were told that the MEC had instituted an urgent forensic investigation of the department’s Supply Chain Management processes following reports of huge quantities of seeds, fertiliser and equipment lying unused in warehouses at Inchanga and other places. Again there has been no progress report on this investigation. Neither has there been any assurance that the fiscal dumping which clearly took place last year will not occur again this year.
In terms of the misguided, portfolio committee members recently attended a conference on rural development and learned of some remarkable examples of successful farming projects involving small scale cooperatives. The comparison between what Gledhow Sugar Company and the SA Sugar Association are doing, with that of Mjindi Farms, is striking. On the one hand there is increased production, increased revenues, more investment in farming equipment and real empowerment of rural women. At Mjindi there are crops going to waste, irrigation equipment poorly maintained, fencing and other equipment stolen or vandalised.
The difference is simple. It’s all about ownership. Gledhow farmers own their plots. Mjindi farmers are tenants. Mjindi must be closed down – as recommended in 2007/8 – and tenants must begin to farm their own land.
Agriculture remains an untapped key economic driver in the province. Given this, the DA expects MEC, Meshack Radebe, to take his role very seriously. We expect him to realise the massive difference that thriving agricultural sector would make in KZN and to start taking the necessary steps to make this a reality.