R7,6 in drought relief unspent

By Ismail Obaray MPL DA Northern Cape Spokesperson of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform:

Farmers battling drought conditions in the Northern Cape are once again the losers, after the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform has had to forfeit R7,6 million worth of unspent funds intended for drought relief.

Drought relief funding could have improved our food security, saved agricultural jobs and allowed our flailing farms the chance to get back into business.

According to Provincial Treasury, the under spending was mainly as a result of late implementation due to service delivery protests in John Taole Gaetsewe district where roads were blockaded. They claim that when the department eventually gained entry and implemented the relief scheme, some farmers had already lost most of their livestock and some had seen great improvement in grazing land after much needed rainfall in 2014.

The DA does not accept this excuse. I have therefore written to MEC Norman Shushu to table reasons exactly why and how this money was unspent and returned to Treasury.

The Agriculture Department failed to spend 13% of the conditional grant set aside for the Drought Relief Scheme.  If properly utilized, the R7,6 million could have been used to procure approximately 3619 tons of A-grade Lucerne, which in turn would have been sufficient to sustain over 12 000   cows for an entire month.

The failure by the department to spend these funds translates into a significant blow for farmers, particularly those who incurred severe losses as a result of the drought of 2013/2014. The drought affected three of the province’s five districts, namely John Taole Gaetsewe, Frances Baard and parts of Namakwa. The severity of the drought was such that, at the time, it was concluded that the province needed R90 million a month, for a period of four months, to assist the affected farmers with emergency feed.  Due to administrative bungles, it took more than eight months to classify the drought as a provincial disaster.  Almost a year after the drought had started, the province eventually received an amount of R50 million to mitigate the effects of the disaster.  The department, however, only managed to spend R42,4 million of the R50 million.

The DA condemns the department’s lax approach towards disaster management. The department is meant to support the agriculture sector, not to exacerbate its starvation.

Droughts, floods and disease outbreaks can cause serious damage to agricultural crops and the sustainability of agricultural businesses. We therefore need and Agriculture Department that manages these risk pro-actively and efficiently.

The DA proposes that in future, the department coordinates with organized agriculture to develop efficient systems to dispense disaster relief funds once it has been made available by Treasury.