Tabling her department’s Budget Vote for debate in the National Assembly (NA), on Thursday, the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Ms Thoko Didiza, called for the acceleration of the land and agrarian reform programmes as well as for the country to develop early warning systems for extreme weather and climate events.

The Minister said the intention of the land and agrarian reform has always been about redressing inequity in terms of land ownership because of colonial and apartheid policies.

“We must ensure tenure security for all, empower citizens to participate in the agricultural economy and ensure integrated rural development. Our interventions in policy, legislation and programmatic intervention must bring us closer in building an inclusive society, without leaving anyone behind,” Minister Didiza said.

She also reported that the government’s programme of commercialisation of black farmers was taking shape and some green shoots of this programme are showing in Land Development Support of farmers on farms acquired through Pro-Active Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS).

Minister Didiza believes the feature of transformation of agriculture in South Africa remains the change in landownership patterns, the growth of black commercial farming and the accumulation of wealth to improve the quality of livelihoods of people directly and indirectly impacted by agricultural initiatives. She said one of the important elements for transformation and inclusive growth will be the use of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)

The Minister said with the intensity and frequency of extreme weather and climate events on the globe, and particularly in Africa, South Africa needs to continue to strengthen the multi-hazards early warning system to preserve development gains and minimise losses in agriculture, livelihoods, property and human life.

“We also need to accelerate the implementation of disaster risk reduction measures, response and post-disaster recovery mechanisms to protect our sector. The recent floods experienced in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape serve as prime examples for the implementation of disaster risk reduction measures,” she said.

The Minister tabled a total budget of R17.3 billion and announced that a sizeable portion of this budget was for transfers to provincial departments of agriculture, as part of the division of revenue as well as transfers to agricultural entities.

Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, supported the department’s budget plan and programmes for the year. He said agriculture plays a critical role in food security and 80% of the world's food is grown on small or family farms and for this reason, it is important for government to support all players in the agriculture sector and acknowledge their role in ensuring peace and stability of our beloved South Africa.

“We must do more to ensure the success of the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme. Through this programme government seeks to increase the creation of wealth in the rural agricultural communities; create sustainable employment; improve on its foreign trade account; reduce poverty and inequalities in the ownership of the land and agricultural enterprises, thereby dismantling agricultural monopolies,” Nkosi Mandela said.

The Department is mandated to ensure the success of the AgriBEE Fund in order to support black emerging farmers and more needs to be done to ensure greater accessibility to this funding by black and emergent farmers, he said.

He also announced that his committee will conduct joint oversight visits with the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour, to look into the living and working conditions of farmworkers, farm dwellers and farmers.

“We hope that at the end of our oversight work, Parliament will deal with all the challenges faced and experienced by our farming and agricultural communities, posing a direct threat to the productivity of those affected farms and their economic livelihood,” he added.

Ms Annette Steyn of the Democratic Alliance in the NA argued that her party’s position that “the failure of land reform is not the consequence of any constitutional deficiency, nor is it due to the government’s lack of funds to compensate owners for land purchased. We need political will to bring about clear land transformation, we need to provide certainty that property rights will be protected, and that expropriated land will be compensated and follow due process,” she said.

She also made a point that the transfer of land alone will not secure the economic success of an agricultural enterprise. “We need knowledge, skills, infrastructure, markets, equipment, and access to water for irrigation is required to successfully farm on commercial scale – all of which form part of post-settlement support,” Ms Steyn added.

Mr Nthako Matiase of the Economic Freedom Fighters said his party will not support the budget vote, and he labelled it as “an uninspired budget fundamentally out of touch with the reality of the land and agricultural challenges the country faces”.

He said: “At the core of these challenges is the lack of political will by this department to take tough decisions to salvage the little that is left of South African agriculture and to fundamentally restructure the entire structure of the agrarian economy to ensure that land reform is widely redistributive and that agriculture is largely responsible for growth in the country side,” said Mr Matiase.

Participating in the debate, Ms Tamarin Breedt of the Freedom Front Plus claimed there was a misalignment between financial resource allocation and performance targets of the department. She said: “For example, the administration programme receives a larger budget than programme 2 which is central to agricultural production, 57% of administration budget goes to compensation of employees, yet monitoring and evaluation within the department is weak.”

By Sakhile Mokoena

13 May 2022