Farmers in desperate need of drought funding were dealt another blow this week, with the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) changing the criteria for drought relief applications midway through the application process.
With the extended deadline for applications closing today, farmers are now in a panic that their applications might be rejected, as the supporting documentation required has been changed.
The changes, which were communicated by DRDAR in a memo sent out last week Friday, require farmers to submit proof of ownership or lease of farmland, in the form of a title deed, lease agreement or affidavit, as part of their application.
For many farmers, these documents are not readily available, as title deeds for example are held by the bond holder, while affidavits need to be issued by the land owner, not the leasee, and with the cut-off date by close of business today, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to comply.
The policy can also have a significant impact on emerging farmers, who make use of commonage to graze their livestock, who may battle to get the necessary documentation.
The Democratic Alliance is also concerned to learn that previous fodder assistance from the Department earlier in the year consisted of sub-standard feed, and that in some cases animals died from contaminated feed.
It has also come to light that transport contractors to the Department have capitalized on the crisis, charging exorbitant rates for the transport of feed to farmers in distress, absorbing the bulk of the relief funds made available.
These relief efforts cannot be hijacked by opportunists and transporters seeking to take advantage of the situation.
I have written to the MEC of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, Nomakhosazana Meth, and requested that the additional requirements for the provision of a title deed etc. be scrapped, as this could have the potential to unnecessary frustrate, and possibly discriminate against, potential applicants for drought relief.
The purpose of providing drought relief is to alleviate some of the immense pressures that our farmers are under, through circumstances outside of their control, not adding more pressure in an already untenable situation.
The current chaos around drought relief applications highlights the need for a provincial drought relief war room that includes various key external stakeholders that could provide valuable input around key decisions.