Disaster Response & Management, Climate Change adaptation & mitigation: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries briefing

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

30 October 2012
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries (DAFF) updated the Committee on the status of its Disaster Response programme, and also presented a briefing on mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Disasters occurred mainly through fires, drought, floods, and pests, and were forecast to increase due to climate change. The agricultural sector, and in particular subsistence farmers, were very vulnerable. DAFF’s Climate Change and Disaster Management Directorate dealt with both disaster management and climate change, with a major focus on reduction and prevention, avoidance, mitigation and preparedness. It had implemented an early warning system for extreme weather warnings to the faming communities, and was carrying out research, awareness and education campaigns and training to strengthen responses and risk management. There was lack of capacity in disaster risk management at all levels, compounded by increased frequency of natural hazards, poor reporting and identification of pest outbreaks, and the need to reduce disasters rather than simply offering post-disaster support, to create more resilient communities.

The Department summarised the contribution of the agricultural sector to greenhouse gas emissions, and stressed also that natural forests and woodlands provided benefits in removal CO2, as well as other benefits. Fisheries contributed minimally. Climate change programmes of DAFF were again focused on raising awareness, policy development, development of sector mitigation and adaptation plans, and identifying and coordinating research. Everything had to be balanced against the need to ensure food security, and to recognise diverse techniques. A multi-disciplinary approach was needed.

Members were concerned that climate change outputs were reported on as deliverables in previous financial years, but that the integrated adaptation and mitigation plans were not finalised. They were also concerned about too few extension officers to assist in these programmes. They wondered if institutional memory was being protected, and whether research took local knowledge into account. The main concern, as expressed by several Members, was the length of time taken for real responses on disaster relief. The instance of Langkloof, which had been waiting since 2007 for the R12 million compensation promised, was cited, and the Department conceded that this was unacceptable, but said that red tape and bureaucratic processes, coupled with the fact that the Disaster Management Act was under the authority of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, were the main reasons for delays. Members urged that the legislation had to be considered with a view to amending it, and the matter must be treated urgently. The Committee also questioned the involvement of provinces, and questioned why they apparently were not consulted. Other issues included questions on transfer of disease to cows from wildebeest, adaptation plans for fisheries, the DAFF’s role in pest control and how it was financed, climate change programmes in coastal communities, and capacity constraints. Written reports were requested on crops that might be suitable for fuel, compared to their usefulness for food, and DAFF was reminded that it still needed to furnish reports on projects that were doing well.

Meeting report

Ms N Twala (ANC) chaired the meeting until Mr M Johnson could arrive.

Disaster Response & Management in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Presentation
Mr Ikalafeng Kgakatsi, Acting Chief Director, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, updated the Committee on the measures that were in place in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department) for disaster response and management. He noted that disasters could arise from natural hazards such as drought, veld fires and floods and migratory pest control. He reported that the frequency of natural disasters was increasing and that the agriculture sector was very vulnerable to disasters, and was also extremely sensitive to extreme weather and climate conditions. DAFF facilitated the implementation of climate change programmes and disaster risk management system through its Climate Change and Disaster Management Directorate. The emphasis was on disaster risk reduction, prevention, avoidance, mitigation and preparedness.

DAFF had developed and implemented an early warning system disseminating extreme weather warnings to the faming communities. In addition, research was carried out to address disaster risk management, awareness campaigns and education and training was given to strengthen disaster risk management. DAFF frequently responded to hazards such as droughts, veld fires, floods and outbreak of pests and diseases, which included control of migratory pests such as locusts and quelea. DAFF was also responsible for the control of the blackfly pest.

The Department’s main challenge included the need to balance disaster relief schemes against risk reduction initiatives. Generally, there was too little capacity in disaster risk management at all levels. The frequency of natural hazards, the need for monitoring of locus outbreak control contractors during outbreak control campaign, the inability of farmers to locate the roosting sites of the reported quelea outbreaks, and inaccessibility to the blackly larvae monitoring sites posed problems. However,  DAFF continued to implement prevention and mitigation, and manage disaster risk funding over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period, as a long term measure.  Research had shown that post-disaster relief interventions had increased vulnerability, due to increasing dependency. The priority was thus on Disaster Risk reduction, through strengthening early warning systems and dissemination of early warnings, as well as awareness campaigns to build resilient farming communities.

Climate Change briefing
Mr Kgakatsi continued with the DAFF presentation on Climate Change. He reported that the agricultural sector in South Africa was facing considerable impact from climate change, which would  affect the livelihoods of the majority of its people. This was compounded by the fact that South African households were also very vulnerable to food insecurity.

The agricultural sector contributed 4.6% of the total net greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from enteric fermentation and manure management, whilst cropland accounted for 3.7% of total net emissions. Natural forests and woodlands provided vital ecosystem services and forest goods that benefited society. In the year 2000, the greenhouse gas inventory had concluded that forest lands removed about 13 million tones of CO2, which made up the single largest sink of greenhouse gasses in the country. Both commercial and small scale recreational fisheries contributed minimally to South Africa's GDP(1.8%).

Climate Change programme being implemented by DAFF included programmes on raising awareness, policy development, development of sector mitigation and adaptation plans, conducting vulnerability assessments countrywide, and identifying and coordinating climate-related research projects. In relation to the climate change debate, the South African agricultural stance was that South Africa recognised the importance of adaptation and its relatively higher priority compared to mitigation, as also the need to achieve food security and the importance of technology transfer. It believed that these issues would best be addressed by taking into account the diversity of agricultural systems, and the differences in scale. In accordance with the principles of international conventions, mitigation and adaptation measures should not jeopardise food security.

Mr Sipho Ntombela, Acting Director General, DAFF, added that climate change was a very complex area because of the need for a multidisciplinary approach. The country was responding to international obligations through the Department of Environmental Affairs, although other departments such as the Departments of Mineral Resources, Energy, Science and Technology, and Water Affairs were also involved.

Mr S Abram (ANC) congratulated the Department on its presentation, but wanted more details on implementation. He was concerned that climate change outputs were reported as deliverables in the 2012/13 and 2011/12 financial years, but the integrated adaptation and mitigation plans had not been finalised in these years as planned. He asked the Department how it would ensure that the plans would be completed by the end of the year, and for more detail on the budgetary requirements. He also asked if the monitoring and evaluation of the plan implementation would be done by service providers, as they would be carrying out the tasks. He also asked about the budgetary requirements.

Mr Kgakatsi said that one of the actions on the challenges was to involve extension officers to monitor implementation. The contractors were farmers, and so the Department was working with the different stakeholders to ensure monitoring of progress.

Mr Abram asked what the Department was doing about loss of institutional memory around farming, pointing out that many of those who used to work on farms had lost their jobs when these farms were purchased by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and ended up without using these skills, but instead living in abject poverty, unemployed, in the townships.

Mr Kgakatsi explained that it was quite tricky to utilise indigenous or institutional knowledge, as most of the information the Department dealt with was scientific.

Mr Ntombela added that the Department did need to look at incorporating this knowledge.

Ms Sebueng Chipeta, Chief Director: Forestry Regulation and Oversight, DAFF, also added that the Department was working on Fire Management Plans, with a focus on prevention of fires nationally. There was a fire protection association, and here there were mechanisms to address institutional memory issues, as well as mechanisms to ensure that there would be a quick response. Most of the fires were the result of deliberate arson, started by aggrieved employees. The Department was working to resolve these issues in an integrated way.

Mr Abram asked about the flood and drought relief, asking what steps DAFF would take once a flood or drought occurred, and how long it took to assist people.

Mr Abram was concerned about the situation in Mpumalanga, which has lost the ability to harvest 1.5 tonnes of grain as that land had become a mine, thereby posing risks to food security. He asked to what degree DAFF was making inputs into influencing decisions, particularly those where agricultural land would be incorporated into a mine.

Mr Abram commented that provincial agriculture was in disarray. He asked the DAFF to explain in what way provincial government was helping to implement what was being decided nationally, and asked what sort of authority the National Department could exercise over the provincial government, to ensure that the latter carried out particular functions.

Mr Abram asked about the status of the investigation that was supposed to be carried out into the malignant catarrhal fever (MCF) that was carried by the blue wildebeest, and had been passed on to cattle.

Dr Bothle Modisane, Chief Director: Animal Production and Health, DAFF, said that to the best of his knowledge, no study had been done on the impact of MCF on cows from the blue wildebeest. However, he would clarify the position and revert to the Committee.

Mr L Van Dalen (DA) told the Department that he wanted to see an adaptation plan for fisheries. He felt that the DAFF was not taking the plans very seriously, and that the Committee was not happy with them as they stood.

Ms A Steyn (DA) said that she hoped to have seen more substance and progress reported upon in this presentation. She asked if the Department if they could identify exactly where the problems were. She cited the case of Langkloof farmers, who were promised R12 million compensation after the disaster in 2008, but had received nothing. She asked if the legislation or policies needed amending, so that matters could move faster. It had been ten years since the Disaster Management legislation was promulgated, but very little progress was seen.

Mr Jacob Hlatshwayo, Chief Financial Officer, DAFF, said that the Department had made a submission to the National Treasury around the flood relief programme. The funds were presently held by LandBank. Approval would be needed to distribute these funds, and the matter was under consideration by National Treasury.

Ms Chipeta added that during 2007, when a disaster was declared in the Eastern and Western Cape, the DAFF information was not submitted to National Treasury, so that there was no allocation for 2007. However, DAFF was asking that Treasury instead make available the allocation for 2002, for the losses in the 2007 year. Progress had been made on this, and a full report  would be available soon.

Ms Steyn noted that some of the meetings called for by the National Department did not involve the provinces, which did not seem to make sense, as she queried how drought could be fully discussed without their input. She asked the Department to do whatever was needed to do to move things forward. In 2011/12, only 4% of the disaster funding was handed out to provinces, or R6 million out of a total of R150 million. She asked what was blocking the disbursement of funding.

Mr Hlatshwayo responded that the reasons for low spending on disaster funding were captured in the Annual Report, on page 139. R131 million was allocated to Northern Cape as a conditional grant.
Ms Steyn pointed out that the Annual Report only referred to R6 million that was spent on disasters.

The Chairperson indicated that page 29 indicated that amounts were paid to the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP).

Ms Steyn countered that the amounts did not correlate.

Ms Steyn asked if the Pest Control Act of 2003 was still relevant. This was the first time she had heard that DAFF was implementing pest control measures.

Dr Modisane explained that the Pest Control Act was not relevant any more. The DAFF had a policy, which had been taken through the processes, and the current practices would be discussed in relation to that policy.

Ms Steyn then queried the payment for pest control in the sum of R37 million. She asked if there was separate funding for pest control, or if it was part of the provincial allocation. 

Mr Hlatshwayo explained that there was expenditure shown for migratory pests. This expense was covered through the Department's budget, and not as a conditional grant.

Ms N Phaliso (ANC) asked about the feasibility study. She pointed out that the National Veld and Forest legislation had been in place since 1998, but there was no indication of the history behind some of the matters. She was also uncertain on the completeness of the research report, and asked whether there had been adequate consideration given to local knowledge. Most of what was in the reports concerned local government or district government, and there did not seem to be disaster management plans at provincial levels, particularly in relation to fisheries. She was also not aware of any campaigns on climate change issues being carried out with coastal communities. She also pointed out that the Extension Officers there were not very well resourced, as some of them did not even have a place to stay.

Mr Kgakatsi explained that plans had been in place, but when the new DAFF was formed in 2009, some of the documentation needed to be changed. The framework was also changed by the Department of Environmental Affairs, although the agricultural sector plans were drawn by DAFF. He indicated that research was part of the development plan. He agreed that Extension Officers were not always very visible, but assured Members that there were plans for their work.

Ms N Twala (ANC) was concerned about the capacity in the provinces, other than KwaZulu Natal (KZN), which was apparently well-capacitated. She asked the reasons for this.

Mr Kgakatsi explained that the Department had issued a challenge, in the previous year, to provinces, asking them to write showing the needs to strengthen structures and disaster-related issues for their province, and to indicate capacity and risk reduction measures. KZN was able to meet the requirements and it also had the capacity to carry out the activities.

Ms Twala asked how the DAFF ensured that the information that reached the farming communities was understood by them. She questioned the types of awareness campaigns and warnings issued to forestry and fisheries communities. She asked also who would train communities on good farming practices, if there was no capacity at DAFF itself.

Mr Kgakatsi said that Department had not really looked at the recreational fisheries plans but would be working on them soon.

Mr C Msimang (IFP) was concerned about implementation. He commented that subsistence and emerging farmers were hardest hit by disasters and climate change. Some had given up altogether; they were very excited when they got farms from government, but when they failed to make a profit, they started sub-letting their farms out to squatters, in order to get an income. He asked DAFF if it was able to suggest any solutions to this problem.

Mr Msimang also asked how adaptation and mitigation awareness campaigns were structured. He knew that the clusters formed by government tended to have a very theoretical approach, and wondered how they could be made effective.

Mr Msimang also asked about the powers that the Department had over the provinces, commenting that if the provinces did not support national aims, nothing would happen.

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked for clarity on who was supposed to capacitate the provinces in relation to disaster management.

Mr Ntombela noted that there were programmes looking at the capacity in the provincial departments. The Departments would also need to explore the incorporation of institutional or indigenous knowledge.

Mr Cebekhulu commented that some of the rivers had dried out in some areas and that there was once a campaign relating to reviving swamps, but he did not know what stage that had reached.

Mr Kgakatsi said that the problems here were related to climate change, and the strategy involved action to deal with resuscitating the wetlands, rivers and swamps.

Mr L van Dalen (DA) asked if South Africa had a classification system for the intensity of fires, to determine the response.

The Chairperson asked if there was a policy on the types of crops to be used for bioenergy, and if there were any benefits for the country

Mr Kgakatsi said that there was a climate-smart project, dealing with bioenergy. The bio-strategy was headed by the Department of Energy, and DAFF would make inputs in relation to crops to be grown for fuel, such as maize, soybean and sunflower.

Dr Modisane added that there were some challenges around some of the plants being proposed by the Department of Energy. Sorghum had been proposed, as there seemed to be a declining consumption of this, and sugar beet was also considered, as it seemed to be growing all over the country. Cassava was another possibility.

The Chairperson asked the Department to provide a list of all crops, with some background, and indicate their benefits as fuel in comparison to their value as food. The Committee would also need the GHG Emissions on Agriculture report. DAFF should, in general, needed to include the Committee on its mailing list for the different reports.

Mr Ntombela answered the questions that related to delays and perceived inaction on disaster management. He said that the core of many of the problems indeed lay with legislation and the linked processes. The Department was also concerned about the turnaround time for response, which was hampered by red tape. The Disaster Management Framework and function itself was an intergovernmental response. Disaster Response was governed by the Disaster Management Act of 2002, but this Act fell under the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA). Part of the reason was that responses to disasters would often take place at local government level. DAFF was not happy about the process, particularly the length of time taken to respond to a disaster, and the bureaucratic processes. He agreed that Langkloof was one example of a process hampered by such red tape, and conceded that in this case government had failed the community.
Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane(ANC) remarked that the Department needed to progress on the issue of training extension officers, as in 2010, the Department said there were 106 officers, yet the numbers still remained the same in 2011.

Ms Pilusa-Mosoane pointed out that the report noted that only six provinces had received disaster relief funding. She felt that all provinces should be included.

Ms Steyn said she understood that the Department was trying to answer the questions raised, but she was still not happy with the answers. Communities had been waiting for years, and she felt that DAFF was simply not doing enough to ensure that they could continue with their farming operations. A far greater sense of urgency was needed around the disaster response funding. She cited an instance in which a fire had started in one province, spreading into Eastern Cape, with very serious consequences in which both people and livestock had died. Each of the provinces simply engaged in a “jurisdiction battle”, trying to shift responsibility to each other. She wanted to know specifically where the problems were, and how to fix it.

Ms Steyn also referred back to questions about the extension officers. It had been said that they did not necessarily have the right knowledge and equipment. She asked if the Department was assisting them with knowledge of how to put up fire breaks. In the Northern Cape, most fires started from municipal-owned land, but the local government was not particularly concerned about this, simply paying out rate-payers’ money.

Mr Abram asked how many funded posts, relating to the issues being discussed, were vacant. He wanted more reports on the filling of posts.

Mr Abram reminded the DAFF that the Committee had consistently asked for written details and locations of project that were showing good practices in farming and agriculture.

Mr Abram was pleased that Mr Ntombela had given a frank response about the problems relating to disaster response. He understood the issues around the involvement of other departments and local government, and commented that this was a “disaster in the making”. He urged that more efforts were needed to remove the red tape from the disaster response procedures. Politics and race also needed to be kept out of the process, as everyone was affected.

Mr van Dalen asked that DAFF to come back to the Committee with a plan to get rid of red tape. The Committee needed to take ownership of the process to drive it forward.

Ms Chipeta said that DAFF had discussed its approach with COGTA, the Department of Environmental Affairs and other Departments, to try to get an integrated approach across all of government.  A workshop was proposed to deal with huge funding issues.

Mr Ntombela agreed that the legislation itself was a problem, as there was no provision for immediate responses to disasters. He reiterated that Langkloof was a sore point, but DAFF was doing everything in its power to get things moving there. The problems lay with legislation and capacity, but it was not just a question of filling vacancies, as new posts actually had to be created. He confirmed that DAFF would be engaging with COGTA and National Treasury to try to make plans to improve the situation.

Mr Abram asked again what was being done about the lands bought by the Department of Rural Development that were not functioning. Nobody on that land had been capacitated, and the funding needs were not known. This situation had to be treated seriously. The Committee could propose and draft legislation to address some of the issues discussed.

The Chairperson said that the UK Government had a Committee on Climate Change, an independent body that monitored the performance against annual targets, with each department being obliged to report to Government on the implementation and progress of such targets. He asked if the DAFF plans were connected to national development plans, and the Millennium Development Goals.

Ms Steyn asked the Department to provide the minutes of the meetings mentioned, so the Committee could understand the background on some issues. She also asked if there could be a follow up meeting for the previous week's request.

The Chairperson agreed that the following Friday would be used as a follow-up.

The meeting was adjourned.


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