In presenting the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development’s budget vote in a virtual mini plenary of the National Assembly recently, Ms Thoko Dididza said no one could have predicted the blow Covid-19 would inflict when the President tabled the State of the Nation Address and presented the government’s plans for the year in February this year.

The closure of some sectors of the economy has meant the loss of agricultural markets and has threatened the job security of farm workers. Covid-19 became an added blow given the challenges that we were already facing in respect of drought, animal and plant disease outbreaks,” said Ms Didiza.

In the previous months “we have seen the impact of Covid-19 to food security in our own country, in the continent and globally. In our own country it has shown the fault lines that still exist in our agriculture and food system.”

The government has intervened to cushion smallholder and commercial farmers from the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Small holder and subsistence farmers have been assisted though production inputs, animal feed, agricultural remedies and livestock stock remedies through the voucher system.

Government has had to adjust budget allocations for competing needs. The initial allocation for the department in the February budget vote was R16.8 billion. This was re-adjusted to R14.4 billion during the supplementary budget vote on 24 June 2020, a reduction of just under R2.4 billion. “We are appreciative that these cuts did not affect critical Medium-Term allocations for biosecurity and supporting exports amounting to R495.1 million and R500 million to finalise land claims.”

The cuts were not extended to the Agricultural Research Council, which was already experiencing cash flow challenges. The department’s R14.4 billion allocation for the 2020/2021 budget also includes transfers to provincial departments of agriculture, as part of the division of revenue. These allocations relate to: Ilima/Letsema Conditional Grants – R428 million; CASP Infrastructure Grant – R965 million; CASP Upgrade of Colleges – R25 million; and CASP Extension Services – R214 million.

Other transfers are to agricultural entities, such as the Agricultural Research Council, which received a grant of R1.271 billion. The National Agriculture Marketing Council received an amount R47.4 million and the Ingonyama Trust received an amount of R22 million.

The impact of cuts in the budget has meant that the department has had to make difficult trade-offs in an effort to impact a little as possible on the delivery of services within the sector. The greatest portion of the cuts of R1.89 billion within the department are in the programmes that deliver on food security, land redistribution and restitution.

These programmes are central to achieving food security and economic transformation through redress and equitable access to producer support. Food security had cuts of R939 million, land redistribution and tenure reform R544 million and land restitution R403 million.

Ms Didiza told Members of the NA that the rural development budget had a cut of R199.7 million, which will negatively affect rural social infrastructure and schemes to improve irrigation. The department’s budget allocation has been cut from R 16.8 billion to R14.4 billion.

Participating in the budget debate, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Inkosi Mandla Mandela said: “We are encouraged by the confidence that the government has in the agricultural sector to transform the ownership patterns of our economy.”

He said the support and the inclusion of small and emerging black farmers into the mainstream agricultural economy is an essential ingredient towards radical economic transformation of the sector. It is important to ensure increased investment into rural infrastructure support programmes that will support farmer production units located in the 44 districts of South Africa. “Equally we need investment in social infrastructure such as rural roads and this will contribute to the effective realisation of urban-rural market linkages, and thus yield positive economic spin-offs for our rural agricultural communities.”

Budget cuts have impacted on one of the most important departmental programmes of the department, namely food security. “We reiterate our call to farmers, farmworkers and traditional leaders to work together to expand food production and ensure food security.”

 Mava Lukani
22 July 2020