Jacques Smalle response to Department of Agriculture Budget Speech

Jacques Smalle (MPL)

DA Limpopo Spokesperson on Agriculture

The National Development plan argues that agriculture is the primary economic activity in rural areas and has the potential to create 1 million new jobs by 2030. This can be done if we expand our irrigated agriculture network, increase our commercial farms. Create policy certainty that will lead to increased food security levels and enhance our provincial rural development program that will create jobs.
This department must either decide if they want to align itself with the NDP or the Limpopo Employment Growth and development plan, which led to this department losing over 31000 jobs in the Agriculture sector last year.
This province was once known to be the fruit basket of South Africa, the land and its people are still here. With the right leadership and incentives that will lead to an increased commercial sector, will allow us to position the agriculture sector to align itself with the NDP in succeeding by creating 1 million new jobs and a healthy partnership between state and the Agriculture sector.
There is a greater need to invest in market linkages such a road and rail infrastructure, cold chain facilities and market information. Critical we need to find ways of providing tenure security for commercial farmers and investigate better ways of financing land reform so that new farmers do not become saddled with debt and whereby the exciting private sector can play an active role in assisting government to achieve its objective in creating a more inclusive, vibrant and commercialized agriculture sector.
It is time for a new vibrant and realistic approach to facilitate an approach whereby all stakeholders in the agriculture sector are consulted. This is how we will do it;
Improving Land Reform Processes:
• Increase the budget for land reform. With the current MTEF it will take 176 years to finalise all existing land claims.
• Distinguish between claimants wanting land for commercial production and those aiming at subsistence agriculture
• Ensure that adequate information on land reform is available to beneficiaries
• Devolve the job of finding and acquiring land to the private sector.
Providing proper support;
• Work with the Land Bank and commercial banks to develop more affordable financing options
• Develop a legislative framework to establish a special purpose vehicle to facilitate the land reform process. It is not just the role of government to effect land restitution. The private sector can play an important role to speed up the process and assist government to achieve its goals.
• Require agricultural extension agents serving commercial farmers to sign contracts with the farmers and base their payments on performance.
• Ensure that agricultural research bodies are properly funded and left to manage themselves.
Tenure reform;
• Conduct and inquiry into communal land rights in order to tackle long standing disputes and determine appropriate solutions.
• Introduce legislation for a fair and just communal land system.
The department of agriculture failed to achieve 25% of its planned targets.
The vacancy of critical posts within the department’s administration was problematic last year and the MEC cannot let this untenable situation continue. Inadequate skills, the loss of the HoD and CFO as well as critical vacancies in the M& E unit are of grave concern as it directly impacted in the increased number of non-compliance findings by the Auditor general.
The department incurred irregular expenditure amounting to R37, 3 million through non-compliance with SCM regulations.
Losing 31 000 jobs in the agriculture sector during the previous financial year one would expect that the MEC would have spend some more time in her speech on how the department will reposition itself to win back the lost job opportunities by crating even more opportunities.
The department has set a target to create 9000 work opportunities through enterprise development projects. This is an ambitious target since the department has not met its EPWP target for the last 2 years and there is already a clear indication by the department that this target will not be met.
The DA however warns that EPWP projects should not be utilised on private property like the Makgoba Tea Estate in Magoebaskloof and the Tshivhase tea estate in Vhembe, but rather on new job creation projects.
The department has budgeted R210 million for infrastructure inter alia for small holder & subsistence farmers. Most of these funds will be utilised to renovate existing infrastructure not utilised. It is unacceptable to renovate structures that have never been utilised and is tantamount to fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The department should strategise and only fund infrastructure on dedicated farming projects and put plans in place to safeguard existing unutilised projects against vandalism and looting or even be sold off to third parties.
We caution the MEC that the department’s programs should stop to bail out farmers. Programs of substance should exist and farmers should be come self sustaining.
A shocking example is the Makgoba Tea Estate owned by the Mamphoka-Makgoba Community Trust. The farm was purchased at a cost of R104 million as part of the province’s land restitution programme in 2006. The farms fell into a state of disrepair and valuable assets were removed. Later R50 million was pumped in an effort to rescue the situation. With an asset base of well over R121 million, the tea estate had a measly net profit of R80 in 2010.
With specific regard to this, the DA will sharpen its constitutionally mandated oversight role. We will hold the executive accountable for every cent spent belonging to the people of Limpopo.
The upgrading and re-opening of the two agricultural colleges Madzivhandila and Tompi Seleka is step in the right direction. 45238 Learners have enrolled for agricultural sciences grade 12 next year hence the need clearly exist for HET in agriculture in our province.
The department’s budget sees a baseline increase of 3, 9% of its mandate for the current budget which is totally inadequate to carry out its mandate in the current budget year.
Less of the budget must be spent on unsustainable projects and renovation of existing, non-functioning projects and more needs to go to projects whereby dedicated communities will benefit.
The DA however cannot support this budget as it is based not on agriculture as a primary, job creating, activity, but on the duplication of previous budgets where mediocre projects were funded and whereby individuals benefitted instead of all the people of Limpopo. It is also not realistic to expect that this budget will facilitate effective land reform in Limpopo.