Agri dept’s silence on issues eerie

By Boitumelo Babuseng MPL:

The DA is disappointed that the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform has failed to properly account for work done in the 4th quarter of the 2014/2015 financial year. This comes after last week’s legislature meeting with the department, to assess their performance, was met with a resistance to provide the committee with relevant information.

Not only did the department choose to remain mum on critical issues affecting the farming sector in the province, such as the revision of the grazing capacity norms map and the possible implementation of land caps in the province, but they also failed to account for the performance of the MEC’s office for the quarter under review.

While the DA sought to establish the level of the public participation process in respect of the upgrading of the grazing capacity norms map for the Northern Cape, the department was unable to provide a clear answer. Instead, they said they “believed there was consultation” but further indicated that they would have to check the extent thereof. This is unnerving. Grazing capacity norms aim to ensure that rangeland is well managed to guarantee long term financial gains and sustainability of our natural resources. Grazing capacity norms therefore form the backbone of the wellbeing of our livestock industry. For grazing capacity norms to be realistic and efficient, input and buy-in of the agriculture sector is critical. Surely then one would expect the senior management of this department to be at the forefront of ensuring stakeholder involvement in this regard?

The DA also attempted to establish the authority under which the newly launched District Land Committees are operating and whether their objective of “promoting an inclusive continuum of farm sizes” has anything to do with the controversial proposal to cap farm land. This question was flatly ignored by departmental officials. This eerie avoidance of the land ownership issue raises our suspicions that the agriculture department is in fact trying to divert attention away from underhanded attempts to bulldoze through unconstitutional land caps on farms.

The MEC is supposed to be the protector of food security and the agricultural sector at large and yet he remains tight-lipped on the performance of his very own office and he is mute when we attempt to discuss crucial issues with him.

While the MEC and the agriculture department may be under a gag order, the DA certainly is not. We will continue to probe these and other important issues and will be submitting parliamentary questions in an effort to attain responses to all our unanswered questions.