This statement is issued on behalf of Agri Eastern Cape by Doug Stern, President
While images of grateful farmers receiving drought aid assistance from the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (EC DRDAR) are doing the rounds on social media and in the press, it is important that the real message concerning the critical conditions prevailing in some areas of the Eastern Cape are highlighted. This, as well as the inability of the EC DRDAR to adequately understand the severity of the crisis and respond correctly.
The severity of the agricultural drought conditions relating to farmers is not the same in all areas of the Province. Areas of the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, the Amatole District Municipality and Chris Hani District Municipality have been in prolonged drought conditions, for, in some
cases, five years, while some of our Eastern Districts have had near normal, and in some cases, above normal rainfall.
An August 2019 the EC DRDAR drought report, which formed the basis of the Provincial Declaration, highlighted this fact, with only the Blue Crane Route, Dr Beyers Naude and Makana Local Municipalities within the Sarah Baartman District, the Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality within the Amatole District and the Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality within the Chris Hani District experiencing conditions where 50% or more of the municipal area was classified as extremely and severely dry.
Dam levels within the province painted a similar picture.
However, when the Province was declared, which in accordance with the definition outlined within the Disaster Management Act, can occur if existing legislation and contingency arrangements do not adequately provide for the provincial executive to deal effectively with the disaster or if there are any other special circumstances which warrant the declaration of a provincial state of disaster, the EC DRDAR mis-interpreted the intention and purpose of the Act.
A Provincial Declaration does not mean that all farmers, local municipalities or Districts within the province automatically qualify for assistance. Yet, the EC DRDAR decided to allocate fodder assistance to beneficiaries across the entire Province. To call for disaster reporting and assessment forms for the purposes of determining the extent of the problem and potential beneficiaries after a Declaration has been made is back to front. This is also contrary to the EC DRDAR’s own policy
It cannot be comprehended that when at least R 600 mil is needed in the worst affected areas to keep the farmers on their farms, save jobs and keep core herds alive for a 60 day period, the Department, when only making R74 million available to assist farmers, saw it fit to irresponsibly distribute in all districts and municipalities, some not even listed as severe or critical.
It is expected that 30% of the commercial and emerging farmers in these severely affected areas will not survive unless significant and meaningful assistance from Government is provided.
While the Province only allocated R 74 million rand to assist agriculture with this drought disaster, it is alleged to have allocated more than R100 million to catering for 2020, for its various
Various meetings since February 2019 were held with EC DRDAR officials as well as both the previous and current MEC’s Mr. Xolile Nqatha and Ms. Nomaxhosasana Meth respectively, on the correct procedures to be followed during state of disasters within the agricultural sector. At these meetings, calls were made for the Department to set up the required advisory forums as required by legislation, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
This despite undertakings to immediately do so, given by both these MEC’s and the DDG of the
Department Mr. Leon Coetzee to do so.
Agri EC has always been willing to assist and provide input to the Department to ensure the maximum effectiveness of any drought relief made available by Government and paid for by the South African tax payer in fact reaches the farmer on the ground. The current distributions taking place with great fanfare by the MEC and the EC DRDAR are quite frankly, having virtually no effect. While any desperate farmer on his or her knees will gratefully accept any assistance given by Government, the reality is that this assistance is far too little far too late. The whole process from since the Provincial Declaration, which was a challenge in its self to get done, right through to the distribution has been chaotic.
Drought assessment forms have not been adequately verified, we have evidence of fraudulent declarations. Blatant irregularities with regards to accepted stocking rates and classifications of beneficiaries have just been accepted by departmental officials. According to documentation in our possession which is apparently being used to determine allocations to recipient farmers, a black farmer owning 1241 large stock units farming in an area classified below 50% severe and critical has been classified as a smallholder farmer and is scheduled to receive 59,7 tons of feed, while a white commercial farmer owning 1200 Large Stock Units in an area classified above 50 % severe and critical is scheduled to receive 2,1 tons of feed. Apart from the fact that this does not conform to the Departments own policy regarding assistance ratios between commercial and smallholder farmers, this assistance of 2,1 tons will not even feed those animals for a day.
It is further apparent that municipal commonage users are grossly overstocking, but no adjustments for the real carrying capacities of these areas are being implemented. Allocations are simply being done on stock numbers declared, with no verification and as a result in some instances recipients have deliberately inflated their numbers to get more fodder. This process is in fact currently rewarding poor agricultural practises.
If this is not bad enough, some lucerne bales delivered in Graaff-Reinet this week, which were supposed to weigh between 20 to 25 kg, weighed between 9 and 16 kg with an average weight of 16 kg. The question must be asked, who is really benefiting from tax payer funds directed to drought relief, the suppliers or the farmers?
Despite repeated requests to meet with both the MEC and Premier on this issue of drought assistance, our requests remain unanswered. In the interests of the entire farming community, should the Premier and MEC continue to refuse to engage with us on the matter and continue to not deliver on undertakings given previously, Agri EC as an organisation will be left with no option but to explore alternative methods to hold our elected representatives and officials to account.