The official opposition has appealed to Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza and her department to expand its Covid-19 relief efforts to include measures to support medium-scale farmers with a turnover of up to R100 million per year.
The Agriculture Disaster Fund currently only makes provision for farmers who earn less than R1 million per annum.
“Agricultural input costs are very high, and the majority of small and medium-scale farmers will, therefore, have a turnover of more than R1 million per year,” argued DA shadow minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development Annette Steyn in a statement.
“The disaster fund for agriculture, as announced by Minister Didiza clearly seeks only to support subsistence and small-scale farmers with an annual turnover of between R20,000 and R1 million. This means that medium-scale farmers have been excluded from this much-needed funding despite the devastating impact of the recent drought and the current lockdown regulations on their finances,” added Steyn.
According to Steyn, the party has received worrying reports from some farmers about lacking funding to safeguard the health of their workers adequately.
“They are struggling to buy the necessary hand sanitisers and masks, and transport for workers is a serious concern. The additional cost of transporting workers and goods in a safe way that complies with lockdown regulations has become too much for some farmers to bear.”
The DA said their lockdown worries were further compounded by the combined agricultural debt, which amounted to R126 billion.
“Farmers need urgently financial relief to consolidate their current debt. The added cost of health and safety requirements on input and production will only add to the burden of many farmers.”
In addition to the expansion of agricultural relief to medium scale farmers, the party is also proposing the following measures:
Firstly, in order to ensure proper oversight and transparency, the DA want the fund to be administered by the Land Bank.
“It already has extensive measures in place to monitor and vet to ensure that the projects meet business, agriculture and financial criteria. The bank has agricultural economists that annually review and report on successes and failures of projects and can use that expertise to closely monitor fund expenditure,” explained the DA.
Secondly, the DA wants the department to ensure that every cent being spent can be accounted for and that it reaches the farmers in need.
“Too often have relief efforts benefited only the middlemen who hike prices, and have farmers been left without the necessary guidance and support. Most recently in KwaZulu-Natal, the department used recapitalisation support to dump tractors and seeds on farmers without following agricultural recommendations.”
Lastly, the opposition would like to see the banks look at bridging finance packages to ensure that current agricultural debt is consolidated to ease cashflow problems.
“The government should also seriously consider subsidised relief funds for the farmers providing 80% of the food supply in South Africa.”
(Compiled by Kaunda Selisho)