Budget and Strategic Plan 2010/11: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

22 February 2010
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries briefed the Committee on the restructuring process to establish a new Department that incorporated Forestry and Fisheries, and outlined the difficulties encountered, including the fact that the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries lacked a full mandate for Fisheries. There was a ring-fencing of Forestry posts, dependent upon the definition of the scope of the forestry function. The Department had to lead the transfer process, working also with the departments who had previously had control of these functions. The goals and strategic focus of the new Department would centre around employment and economic growth; sustainable rural development; the enhancement of the environment and natural resources of land, water and climate; and the development of economic infrastructure and job creation. The Department tabled the budget, indicating that the total appropriation had risen from R2.7 billion in the previous financial years to R3.6 billion for 2010/11.

Questions and comments from Committee members included concerns about the lack of attention given to commercial farming, and suggestions that this needed to be promoted, and further attention given to training and skills development for farmers. The Department countered that a focus on subsistence and small-holding farming had the object of eventually supporting commercial farming. A member expressed confidence in the development of agricultural cooperatives, which was seen as a means of boosting commercial farming. The neglect of animal livestock production also caused concern, and Members asked what had happened to the former partnerships with the Agricultural Research Council. Hazards to Forestry and Fishery in the form of fires, overfishing and poaching, received attention. Members also posed questions related to skills training and the retention of scarce skills, and there was agreement that there was a dire need for research. The proposed structure of the new DAFF came in for considerable criticism from members. There was a general feeling that duplication of functions posed a real danger, and that perhaps not sufficient research had been done. There were questions about possible corruption, and a call for a forensic investigation of Fisheries. Other outstanding issues were cited as the transfer of employees from Fisheries, the possibility of partnerships with the Navy and Air Force in regard to patrols of the coastline, integration of computer systems, coordination of food security, abalone fishing and the possibility of a specialized unit to deal with this matter, and the value for money obtained from an SABC2 television programme on agriculture. There was an appeal to the Department to look at farming as a solution to youth unemployment.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s Opening remarks
The Chairperson announced that Mr N Du Toit would be the Democratic Alliance replacement for Mr P Pretorius on the Committee.

Budget and Strategic Plan: Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) submission
Mr M Thabethe, Acting Director General, DAFF, commented on the status of the restructuring process of the new DAFF. The DAFF had to lead the transfer of Forestry and Fisheries into the newly constituted department. He outlined that there were difficulties linked to the fact that the Minister did not have a full mandate with regard to Fisheries. Teams of officials had been appointed to resolve the matter. The mandate was currently based on the Sea Fishery Act of 1988.

With regard to Forestry, he noted that posts for Forestry line functions had to be ring fenced for transfer to the DAFF. Ring fencing of posts was dependent on defining the scope of the Forestry function.

The Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) division transfer had also encountered difficulties. The proposed DAFF structure was going through the consultation process. The vision of the new DAFF was based on a commitment to economic growth, job creation, and rural development. Food, fibre and timber production had to be increased. There had to be support for rural development. Sustainable management of natural resources and the promotion of safe food were important objectives, as were the creation of sustainable jobs and increased market access for the country.

Focus areas included new funding models, a scarce skills development programme, and partnership programmes for developing new farmers. On-farm infrastructure for employment in poor rural areas had to be implemented. Inter-Africa trade had to be enhanced. There was a commitment to human resource development, based largely on identification and training of potential farmers.


Mr Thabethe took the Committee through a structural organogram for the new DAFF, noting that offices were proposed for the Director General, and nine Deputy Directors General. The structure was geared towards policy planning and research. Provincial performance would be monitored. Trade and marketing with Africa and other markets would be encouraged. Other focus areas included food security, agrarian reform, and subsistence farming. The development of commercial and small-scale forests would be supported.

A brief analysis of the budget revealed that the total appropriation for 2010/11 would be R3,6 billion, as compared to R2,7 billion for the previous year.

Discussion
The Chairperson appealed to Mr Thabethe to refrain, in future, from using the word “client”, which had some serious ideological issues associated with it, and noted that the principle was how  officials related to people on the ground.

Ms M Mabuza (ANC) referred to page 33 of the presentation, and asked for an explanation of the difference between “Cooperatives Development” and “Rural Enterprises Development”. She remarked that the presentation did not deal with commercial farmers.

Mr Richard Seleke, Acting Chief Director, DAFF, replied that agricultural, forestry and fisheries cooperatives organised farmers. Rural Enterprises Development was aimed at smaller groupings.

Ms Mabuza noted that Mr Thabethe had said that the structure presented to the Committee excluded Fisheries. The Department of Environmental Affairs had 600 employees who had still to be moved to the DAFF. She worried that the structure could become too large and unwieldy. She also asked if Fisheries would also be receiving a budget from the former Department of Environmental Affairs.

Mr Thabethe noted that the number of employees moved over from Fisheries had not been reckoned in yet. Personnel had to be divided between the job functions, and it was as yet unclear whether all 600 people would be transferred.

Mr N Du Toit (DA) remarked that he thought the organisational structure had a good base, and that it was logical. He asked about the 3 to 6 month training period for farmers, particularly to what extent skills could be obtained in such a period.

Ms D Carter (COPE) asked if the 3 to 6 month training period for farmers also included financial management training.

Mr Du Toit said that the Land Bank had had problems with financing loans, but added that better management had to be in place before there was a decision to resort to micro lending.

Mr Thabethe responded that the Department wished to specify a target group of smallholders and subsistence farmers, but the intention was indeed that they graduate to commercial farming eventually. The 3 to 6 month training period referred to comprised on-the-job training, which would also allow the farmers to gain experience of how farms were run.

Mr Du Toit remarked that different activities were pursued at different times of the year on farms. During a 3 to 6 month training period, there would be activities that, not falling within a particular season, would be missed out.

Mr Thabethe responded that the 3 to 6 months were not continuous, and were indeed broken up into smaller time segments slotted in through the year.

Mr Du Toit referred to threats to forestry and fisheries from fires and overfishing, and asked if fire was also taken into account.

Mr C Mtheba, representative of the Office of the Deputy Director General: Forestry, DAFF, agreed with Mr Du Toit about the urgent need to attend to fires. Uncontrolled fires due to human activity were rife. Forestry responded in terms of the mandate defined in the Veld and Forest Fire Act. Fire protection associations had been formed, but there were problems of resourcing. A fire management plan had to be developed. Awareness of members had to be raised. There had to be preparation for the fire season. In the Western Cape this was summer, and in the northern regions it occurred in winter. The fire protection associations needed capacity.

Mr Du Toit asked if there were enough vessels to patrol high seas and investigate offshore poaching.

Mr Andre Share, Chief Director: Marine Resource Management, remarked that in regard to fish poaching, a 3 100 kilometre coastline had to be patrolled by four vessels. 50% of the budget had to go towards vessel operating costs. Research vessels were also needed, to estimate the strength of marine resources. Innovative strategies were needed, to get conservation and law enforcement agencies on board.

Mr Du Toit asked if hardware and software systems were in place and were compatible so that there could be centralization and integration of data. If not, he feared that costs could be incurred in the form of time required for training.

Mr Seleke replied that there were subcommittees to investigate issues around integration. An IT task team had been formed. There was already a single e-mail system.

Mr Du Toit enquired about employee increases of 6% to 7%.

Ms Mabuza asked about production and resource management, in particular how much food was produced by households and what kind of support was given. She also sought information on the results of seed distribution, for instance.

The Chairperson asked about coordination of food security initiatives.

Mr S Abram (ANC) noted that more money was to be spent on contractors. At the same time, more money had to go to personnel such as temporary staff and interns, and towards training. He said that questions about the costs had been posed in June 2009, and there had been no response.

Mr Johan Venter, Acting Chief Financial Officer, DAFF, responded that a very comprehensive report on the matter had in fact been compiled. Currently it was being revised to make it more reader-friendly.

Mr Abram remarked that 73% of young people in the country were unemployed. He enquired how the DAFF proposed to reduce youth unemployment. There were grand ideas and targets, but the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) was experiencing a capacity problem. He pointed out that in the past an agency, currently known as Studbook South Africa, had worked in tandem with the ARC, for animal livestock improvement. Livestock production was in a bad state, but today’s presentation had not focused on it. He enquired how the capacity problem would be turned around. He reiterated that research was needed.

Mr Abram also referred to the large percentage that was going to salaries in the budget, but enquired how the outcomes mentioned would be met. When new targets were set for a new year, the first question had to be what the profits were during the previous year. There had to be a movement from subsistence to commercial production. He asked whether an environment scan had been done, and if the DAFF could arrest the situation and turn it around. Most restitution cases were in the doldrums. DAFF efforts had to follow on land reform.

Mr Abram also asked for further details about extension services.

Mr Thabethe said that in relation to the capacity of extension services, there were rehabilitation programmes to respond to needs on the ground. There was engagement with colleges and universities, to equip people with the tools for support.

Mr L Gaehler (UDM) asked about the availability of “warm bodies” (employees in place) to carry projects through. The Department had in the past funded projects that were not viable. He also asked what was being done about research, and made the point that the Department had to investigate all matters thoroughly.

Ms N Phaliso (ANC) expressed concern about the effective use of resources, and corruption. She said that there should be forensic investigations into corruption.

Ms Phaliso stressed that there was a need for further investigation into Fisheries, and asked what had happened to the data.

The Chairperson noted that Marine and Coastal Management was not yet included in the Department, so there could be no talk of investigations into this function just yet. The MCM could come to the Committee, and that could form a basis for further engagement.

Ms Phaliso also asked how the current budget would be used to promote food security and self sufficiency. She said that food security of people on the ground was being delayed.

Mr Du Toit referred to the position of commercial farmers in the organogram. Commercial farmers had the best capacity to ensure food security. There had to be a look at economic development and trade, and markets.

Mr Thabethe agreed that agricultural processing and marketing for commercial farms needed support. There had to be value adding for commercial farms.

Ms Phaliso asked, in regard to the comments about capacity and scarce skills, if the Department of Labour had a skills database that could be utilised.

Mr Thabethe agreed that in regard to training and scarce skills, there was as yet not enough training, especially for the extension capacity. There were programmes for upgrading extension officials. Technical training at universities had been instituted from two years ago, up to 2012, to develop capacity. There was a support package for that. Capacity had also to be obtained from research institutions. Extension officers had to get the results of research through to farmers. The availability of scarce skills was a real issue, especially in areas like agricultural engineering and veterinary science. Specialised training for fisheries often had to be obtained outside the country.

 Mr Du Toit suggested that Forestry and Fisheries ask for more ships and resources. He asked about the involvement of the Air Force and the Navy. There had to be capacity to board ships and impound them, if there was contravention. He also suggested that ideally there should be a specialised unit to deal with abalone, and that had to be budgeted for. A fire fighting core unit was needed. The Department could at least approach the Minister, and ask for more money.

Mr Share replied that partnerships with the Police and Navy had been put in place and were starting in operation. Magistrates were being trained to deal with crimes related to fisheries.

Ms N Twala (ANC) referred to the structure of the office of the Director General, as set out on page 27 of the presentation. She said that the offices of the Deputy Director General of Policy Planning and of Monitoring and Evaluation constituted the weakest point in monitoring. She asked how was monitoring to be implemented.

Mr Thabethe replied that monitoring would concentrate on targets.

The Chairperson noted that nothing had been said about climate change.

Mr Thabethe pointed out that climate change was dealt with on page 36, under the heading “Climate Change, Risk and Disaster Management”.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee had spoken to a Deputy Director General, at Hamburg on 1 February, about total allowable abalone catches. A decision had only been reached about commercial abalone, not subsistence abalone catches. The Maputo Declaration had to be put into effect.

Mr Thabethe replied that budget reports about allowable catches had in the past not been presented by province.

Mr Abram asked about  Ilima Letsema outcomes.

Mr Mtheba replied that a report could be provided about Ilima Letsema.

Ms Mabuza referred to lantana plants that could be seen on the road verges between Tzaneen to Thabazimbi. These plants killed cattle, and the ARC seemed unable to deal with that.

Mr Mtheba responded that the control of lantana formed part of Land Care, and data was available.

Mr Abram queried whether the Department had fully researched the organogram it presented. There was much duplication, and he questioned whether all those separate divisions were needed. He suggested that there be work towards a “lean, mean and functional” structure.

The Chairperson remarked that he had trouble following the organogram. Legal services were placed under stakeholder relations. Communications were usually dealt with by the Director General (DG). He pointed out that Development Finance was located in the Finance Division. It was problematic to have an office that disbursed finance, and was at the same time in charge of finances.

Mr Thabethe replied that the inclusion of Stakeholder Relations would make the DG’s office too cumbersome, especially if stakeholders’ Chief Executive Officers wanted to engage with the Director General. Legal Services also needed its own Deputy Director General. He pointed out that disbursement for Development Finance were mainly to the provinces. The Department had to monitor and control its strategic functions.

The Chairperson asked Mr Thabethe to spell out the new DAFF priorities in a concise manner.

Mr Thabethe identified four priorities: employment and economic growth, sustainable rural development, enhancement of environment and natural resources of land, water and climate (including the creation of “green jobs”, which would be done with oversight from the Department of Environmental Affairs), and economic infrastructure development and job creation. He pointed out that  Agriculture had an important contribution to make to national productivity.

The Chairperson noted that a regular television programme on SABC 2 dealt with agricultural matters. Owing to its time slot, it was doubtful whether significant numbers of viewers could access it, yet the Department was pumping money into it. He asked whether this programme was privately or publicly owned. He suggested that the time slot be changed, or that the programme be cancelled.

Mr Thabethe replied that a forensic audit was being conducted about the matter.

Mr Abram commented that in the total economic cluster, agriculture and fisheries received less than 1% of the budget. He remarked on skills loss to the private sector, which poached university graduates away from careers with the public sector. He urged the Department to find out why graduates did not want to work in the public sector.

Mr Du Toit underlined the importance of agricultural cooperatives. It was the key to rural development, and it had to be discussed at length. He pointed out the examples of collectives in the Soviet Union, and the Kibbutz system in Israel. He suggested that cooperatives could resemble commercial farms in productive capacity.

The meeting was adjourned.


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