Eastern Cape drought-stricken farmers deserve relief now

Issued by Retief Odendaal, MPL
Shadow MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform

Government could make at least R50-million available

The Eastern Cape government could make at least R50 million available to drought hit farmers, through simple cuts in non-core expenditure for the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform.

This funding would be over and above any national funding that could be made available once the declaration of the province as a disaster area is gazetted, following the Premier’s announcement earlier this week.

While R50 million a drop in the ocean in the face of the drought crisis our province is experiencing, it is substantially better than the paltry R3.2 million that has been made available by the Department for drought relief to date.

The Department is failing in one of its core mandates of providing support to the agricultural sector. In the last financial year, it underspent its budget by a whopping R80,595 million. Included in this underspend was R39,520 million that was budgeted for Farmer Support and Development!

We all know that this drought is currently the single biggest threat to the agricultural sector in the province and yet the Department is nowhere in assisting farming communities in this regard.

In the DA-led Western Cape, provincial funding of R147 million has been made available to assist farmers in their province deal with the drought.

Simple cuts in non-core expenditure items in the 2019/20 budget would free in excess of R50 million, which could be redirected to farmers in need.

These cuts include:

  • A 50% cut in advertising – R4,743 million savings
  • A 60% cut in catering – R6,414 million savings
  • A 11.4% cut in communication (G&S) – R2 million savings
  • A 19.8% cut in Consumable Supplies – R2 million savings
  • A 31.4% cut in Stationery and Office Supplies – R2 million savings
  • A 23.9% cut in Travel and Subsistence – R20 million savings
  • A 20% cut in Training and Development – R5,158 million savings (underspent by 28% in 2018/19)
  • A 10% cut in Fleet Services – R2,521 million in savings (Underspent by 6% in 2018/19)
  • A 0.25% cut in Salaries and wages – R4,625 million in savings
  • A 15% cut in Venue and Facilities hire – R648,000 saving (underspent by 15.5% in 2018/19)

This brings the potential total savings to R50,109 million, which could then be redirected to assisting farmers who have been battling to deal with what has been described as the drought of the century.

I have written to the Chairperson of the Committee, the Hon Fundisile Bese, MPL, to liaise with the Speaker, in order to call a special meeting of the Rural Development and Agrarian Reform Committee, that the current situation regarding the drought and the proposed budget adjustments can be discussed.

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It is clear that the officials in the Department are hopelessly out of touch in appreciating the severity of the drought situation in the province and this is simply unacceptable. Drastic action needs to be taken to ensure the long-term food security for the province and the economic viability of one of the largest job creating sectors in the Eastern Cape.

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