By Ismail Obaray, DA Northern Cape Provincial Spokesperson of Agriculture:
The tardiness on the part of the provincial government to declare the drought conditions in the Northern Cape a disaster, threatens to cause irreparable damage to the agricultural sector.
While the DA waits for the ANC government to heed its call to declare the drought a national disaster, the Northern Cape, one of the hardest hit provinces, is yet to be declared a disaster area due to administrative bungles by the provincial government. With drought conditions long ago having reached crisis point in the province, the delay in declaring it a disaster area is delaying the allocation of emergency assistance to farmers. This is in spite of Premier Sylvia Lucas having signed the drought declaration on 18 December 2015 already.
It has come to light that government officials are blaming new business requirements, as set by the Government Printers for the submission of publications in the Northern Cape Provincial Gazette, for the delay in publishing the Premier’s drought declaration.
The DA finds this totally unacceptable.
Late last year, at least three notices were openly and timeously sent by the legislature to all government officials in the province, including Heads of Departments, clearly informing them of the new processes to be followed when publishing Proclamations, Acts, municipal notices and so forth in the provincial gazette.
Laying blame on the new government printing processes is thus a feeble excuse. It not only highlights the ineptitude of the provincial government, but also once again underscores their attitude towards the ailing agricultural sector in the Northern Cape.
This is not the first time that provincial government has failed to treat drought conditions with the necessary urgency. Previously, administrative bungles and the lack of a proper disaster management plan to guide a coordinated response to the devastating drought of 2013/2014, saw it take over six months for the Premier to declare a state of disaster, and another two months for the National Disaster Management Centre to classify the disaster as a provincial disaster. As a result, the province only received drought relief a year after the drought had started. In the meantime, thousands of animals starved to death.
The drought situation in the entire Northern Cape is dire despite scattered rainfall and the province simply cannot afford another delayed response to the excessively dry conditions.
Even if the province gets enough rainfall within the next few weeks, the situation will remain critical and will still necessitate additional state assistance, as farmers are under severe financial strain, grazing land needs time to recover and breeding herds need time to reproduce.
The DA is calling on Premier Sylvia Lucas to urgently take ownership of Northern Cape provincial government’s lacking disaster response and to hold cabinet members and officials accountable for repeatedly failing to manage disasters in the Northern Cape effectively.
In November last year, the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture allocated a roll-over of R7,7 million from the drought relief scheme of 2014/2015 to commercial farmers and R14,6 million from the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) conditional grant to smallholder farmers. This helped but it is not nearly enough.
If additional assistance from government is not forthcoming soon, then the Northern Cape stands to lose a number of stock farmers. This will have a calamitous knock-on-effect on food security, food prices and unemployment rates.
We only hope the Premier and her administration grasp the magnitude of the repercussions of their inaction and proceed with haste before it is too late for Northern Cape agriculture.