Budget Vote Process & Overview of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Sector: briefing by Committee Staff

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

01 July 2014
Chairperson: Ms M Semenya (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The meeting began with the Democratic Alliance asking for more time to look over the budget and the strategic plan. It also requested an urgent review of the abalone fishing rights that are set to expire at the end of July.

The Committee's content advisor and researchers provided an overview and analysis of the Department's strategic plan. They concluded amongst other things that the agriculture sector needed to grow, especially from a commercial standpoint. There was an urgent need for cooperation amongst sectors as well as more oversight over the Department. The need for oversight procedure included policies and guidelines for matters such as fishing rights. On the agriculture side, there needed to be more attention on the implementation of the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP).

During the discussion, the Committee requested more analysis and information on what was unsuccessful about the programmes in order to find appropriate solutions. They asked for more cooperation from the Department, especially about having greater accessibility to information. Besides support to land restitution beneficiaries, concerns raised by the Committee included temporary workers in the sector, marginal land in formal homeland areas, water rights for small farmers, conditional grants being misused by provinces

Meeting report

Introduction of Agenda and Committee Concerns
The Chairperson opened the meeting by asking Members to look at the agenda and confirm it.

Ms A Steyn (DA) asked if this was the only day that the Committee would meet, because in the past even three days has not been enough time to discuss the budget and the strategic plan.

The Chairperson explained that the Committee was under pressure from Parliament to have the budget approved on time, so the Committee could not have more meetings on it. However, in future, Parliament will consider whether the Committee can have more days as well as consider if the Committee should have more briefings. She also noted that Ms Steyn was a parliamentary veteran and knew best, but this time [due to it being an election year], the Committee would have to comply.

Ms Steyn said that the reason was understandable but it was a pity, because the committee only sees the entity one time during the year. She then shifted the Committee’s attention to the issue of Abalone fishing rights which would come to an end at the end of July, and it was a puzzle that the Committee had to solve. She was worried that these fishing rights would expire at the end of the month, and there would be no solution for those who needed the rights.

The Chairperson responded that the Committee should not rush the agenda. The Committee had to allow the Department to brief Members, and if there were any issues that the Department failed to report on, then the Committee could ask for a briefing on the outstanding issue.

Mr Z Mandela (ANC) suggested that questions should be written and passed along to the Committee Secretary, then to the Chair, so that Members can be aware of the question beforehand and have a more productive meeting.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Mandela that issues that need to be raised by the Committee can be added to the agenda. It would also help the researchers prepare before attending the meeting. She then shifted the attention to attendance, and said that there was one apology from Mr M Filtrane (UDM).

Mr C Maxhegwana (ANC) asked if there was a reason for the Member’s absence. Members should be more specific when giving their apologies because the Committee had to know if there are committee schedule clashes. If there are any scheduling problems, the Member had to let the Committee know so that they could deal with this as soon as possible.

Mr T Ramokhoase (ANC) agreed that Members had to clarify if they had scheduling problems. He was also affected by scheduling clashes because he has another committee meeting, has no alternate to replace him, and had to leave at ten that morning.

The Chairperson responded that she did not know why the Member did not attend, because he did not give a reason with his apology. Parliament was trying to allocate committee dates so that Members did not have scheduling clashes. That is why the Agriculture Portfolio Committee met on Tuesday. If the designated day clashed with other committees, then there was a problem, which she believed could be corrected. They would deal with that at another time, because this meeting was about the legacy report and the analysis of the sector. Once the Committee had familiarised itself with the challenges that the Committee had to face, then the Committee could figure out scheduling concerns. She did not want to be in a situation where the Committee gets stuck going over the same issues because of poor attendance. If the schedules are not coordinated properly, the Committee would not move forward.

Mr Maxhegwana said that the current meeting was very important, that the Committee did not have a lot of time and so Members must be on time. Further, to manage time properly, Members must be clear on the reason why they cannot attend meetings.

The Chairperson agreed that the reasons had to be more detailed.

Ms Steyn reiterated that the Committee had not been given enough time to prepare, and requested that the entities return the following week.

The Chairperson responded that the Committee had noted Ms Steyn’s concern, and said they all wished that they had enough time. 

Committee Secretary introduction
Ms Albertina Kakaza introduced herself as Committee Secretary and she provided procedural advice. The purpose of meeting is to brief the Members on the last Parliament and its Legacy Report. Overall, her job was to coordinate meetings, organise oversight visits, workshops and so on. Her other role is to monitor the budget of the Committee in consultation with the Chairperson. She also facilitates decision making in the Committee. If anyone needs official documents that are adopted by the Committee, she will have them in her database. She explained that the Committee must vote and adapt the department budget by 11 July 2014. Once the process has been finalised, the adopted budget will be published and debated in the House. Normally the process may include public participation, however, because of the 2014 timeframe, she did not think that there would be enough time for public participation.

Content Advisor presentation
Ms Nokuzda Mgxashe, Committee Content Advisor, provided an overview of the issues facing the sector. One of these is food insecurity, which can be resolved through growing the area of Agriculture. However, an even bigger problem was the alignment of the Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry sectors. The sectors were merged in 2009, and there have been issues coordinating efforts across the sectors. This affects programmes like the Integrated Food Security Strategy (IFSS), which has not been effectively implemented due to lack of coordination to maximise outcome. Another important challenge is that the Department does not have a specific policy when dealing with Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry. On a strategic side, if they are able to coordinate, one of the sectors that should be emphasised is Agro-processing, meaning turning the Agricultural, Fishery and Forestry industries into commercial enterprises. However, for programmes to be successful the Department not only needs to work as a whole, but also needs to face external threats such as climate change, land encroachment, especially from the mining sector, and competition in international trade. To overcome these challenges, strategic plans are needed to combat each threat. For example, for climate change, the government can set up programmes to help farmers assimilate the new weather patterns. For international trade, the government needs to explore commodities and Agro-processing. For example, olive oil has increased its value in the global market, making it an important commodity to explore. She emphasised the need to fix programmes where the benefactors were not benefiting from the mentorship programmes. In conclusion, unless agriculture reaches some degree of commercialisation, South Africa will have problems with food security and poverty alleviation. The Department should also provide aid for smallholders, and help them grow the agriculture sector.

Committee Researchers presentation
Mr Joseph Nhlanhla introduced himself as the researcher for fisheries. He highlighted the need for departmental cooperation. When the departments were merged, it became hard to find oversight information on sectors like aquaculture. Another issue is that there has to be more research in aquaculture and fisheries because those sectors need constant monitoring to ensure that they are sustainable. Other issues include a lack of policy in the Fisheries sector. For example, the only legislation is the Sea Fishery Act and the Marine Living Resources Act. However, these Acts are concerned with preservation, instead of challenges such as job creation and promoting fishery. This lack of policy has affected the fishery sector, in that allocation of rights and resources are unclear and has become troublesome. For example, there was a controversy in 2013 with rights allocation for nine or eight fisheries. The Department was taken to court over misallocation of fishery rights. The affected fisheries argued that the Department had not consulted them when creating policies, and the Department mishandled the process. The Department released its decisions on the granting of rights on 31 December 2013, giving them a day to look at the decision and appeal, because the next financial cycle began on 1 January 2014. He emphasised that this was a failure on the Department’s side because there should be a process, where the fisheries are given ample time to appeal the Department’s decision, a process that takes more than a day. Also, due to because of lack of policy and guidelines, the Department does not have reliable oversight or procedures to assess if fishing rights should be granted. It is estimated that this will take up to three years. As such, the Department needs to create guidelines, where a ten-year permit is audited on the fifth year, so that the 2013 problem does not occur again.

Unfortunately, there are already eight additional sectors whose permits will either expire next June or December. The Committee needs to play an active role in these fishing rights, because there are people whose livelihoods depend on it. If they have no licences, some people will not have food on the table. More urgently, the Abalone sector’s rights expire at the end of July, but there is no policy in place to review whether they should receive fishing rights. It seems that the Department is not paying attention to this, because there are only 103 people affected by the decision. However, it is worth mentioning that the sectors that are supposed to be allocated next year are high value sectors, which will affect food security in the coastal communities.

Another issue with food security and sustainability is research and patrolling vessels. There were previous problems with the functionality of those vessels, which affected research and development. When there are emergencies such as oil spills, those vessels are supposed “to spring into action,” yet that did not happen because they were in disrepair. Contracts have been made to maintain the vessels, however, some are still not functional. In conclusion, aquaculture is something that the Department needs to work on growing. South Africa is not doing as well as other African countries; some are about to overtake South Africa in terms of production. South Africa was in the top five, but now it is nine of ten in the entire continent. Lastly, there needs to be more infrastructure and there should be more oversight on the Department.

Due to time constraints, the committee researcher dealing with agriculture, Ms Nontobeko Qwabe, could not present. She noted that the Content Advisor had given a broad overview of the sector and she would answer any questions that the Members might have.

Mr Ramokhoase said that it was clear that the Content Advisor’s presentation was of a very high level, and it was evident that it covered everything. However, as politicians, the Members deal with political matters. Politicians come up with responses to political questions. The issue of departmental integration was very strong in the presentation. His question then would be, do they have a general strategy? He asked if there was advice on how to solve the specific problem that had been detected. The mentorship programmes where the benefactors did not benefit, that is a real problem. He asked if there is a locality where they can see the problem firsthand. The programme has been in place for over 20 years now, and government has lost substantial amounts of money. Had the researchers found the reason that the programmes are not successful? He wanted to know what went wrong. The Members need to be able to come up with solutions, if the problem is management by officials. Additionally, small-scale farmers are not mentioned as the centre of the issue, when surveys have shown that poverty is found more in rural areas. He asked what Members could do to better allocate funds to government plans. He asked if there were any deadlines for finalising draft policies, because according to what the Committee saw, there have been drafts for so long, but no deadline.

Ms Steyn referred to land reform, she said that people could not manage what they could not measure. One of the biggest challenges facing the Committee is that there is so much that it does not know. In the first presentation, some of the biggest issues deal with not having a baseline. A baseline should be a priority for the Committee. The Committee needed to know actual facts. If the Department is moving forward with food security, the Committee cannot know if there is progress if they do not have statistics. Statistics were needed in the presentation, because there were massive statistical gaps. She could not remember the actual figure, but the figure for subsistence farmers is three million. Even if a farmer has only three chickens, they qualify as a subsistence farmer, making oversight of subsistence farmers hard to gauge. The Committee needed more guidance. If there are so many things that they do not know, they cannot gauge if South Africa is moving forward or backwards.

On a different point, something that comes up during discussions is marginal land in formal homeland areas. She wanted a closer look into that because the information the Committee had was from the '60s and '70s. However, there were instances when the land itself was not marginal land. The land became marginal land through population growth and overuse. She sometimes got the impression that people on those lands think that they cannot plant on those lands, but that perception is not necessarily true. As such, the Committee should look at which land is marginal land and which is not, and find a way to distinguish good soil from bad soil. For example, in the Western Cape, there is land that looks bad yet people are producing wine. So the Committee must get an understanding of what is proper and improper land. Lastly, it is important that the Committee has accessibility to documents. The Department’s website is a mess and there are many documents and policies that she could not find on the websites. Even if the Department moans about it, the committee is doing oversight.

Mr Maxhegwana thanked the staff but said that the staff must do more. There is a lot of work to do and the Committee must improve on what has been done in the past. When the staff presented, they spoke about the things that have not been done. It is necessary for the staff to package all the issues for the committee because that will help the Committee improve on what has been done in the past. Lack of management is one of the reasons that things did not function properly in the past. The Department is the implementer, the committee staff finds fault at the lower level, but not the higher level. That needs to be improved. He asked the Content Advisor to be clear on what she meant when she said talked about job creation in the different sectors. She needed to clarify if the definition of employees meant permanent or temporary workers. Farming is an area that needs careful attention, so the Committee really needs to look at the status of temporary workers. Those statistics need to be precise. He then shifted his focus to the area of subsistence fisheries. Small villages must be given space for fishing. He hoped that the Committee would properly address issues like subsistence fisheries. However, the point is to have a document package of what has to be done as quickly as possible. The Committee cannot have things like the Department’s website not working properly. Members must have access to information.

Mr Mandela asked about the gap between the sector’s direct and indirect effect on employment. Asked if those employees were permanent or temporary workers.

Ms Steyn asked about the outstanding forestry and fisheries legislation.

The Chairperson thanked the staff for the informative presentation. She emphasised that the Department needs to give the Committee all relevant documents. She pointed out that the water rights of small farmers had not been mentioned. She asked if the staff had any information on that. The Committee needed to ensure funding for small sectors to grow. For example, land and rural development was important. When she was in Limpopo she noticed that most of the restituted land is not used. Intergovernmental legislation will be very helpful in that area. Staff must tell the Committee about the transformational issues. Most important is how the Department aligns its policies with the United Nations (UN) and the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA). The Committee will be able to do things right if it gets the right support from the staff. She agreed with Ms Steyn, that the Committee cannot assess progress if there is no data. Furthermore, support given to the provinces cannot be firm if it is not guided. A lot of conditional grants have not been spent, so if there is need to call provinces and get them to Parliament to account for themselves, the Committee must do what needs to get done. The Committee needs to make sure that it assists the Department in getting provinces to do the work properly.

Ms Nontobeko Qwebe began with Mr Ramokhoase’s questions. In terms of farming profiling of land, they can look at the best crops to use in the area. Private sector companies successfully use the system developed by the State, which shows that the State is not using the resources properly. For matters such as animal disease, National Treasury has approved a grant to refurbish infrastructure. A lot can be done to improve the livestock and compete with international competitors. On Ms Steyn’s questions, she said that the Committee could work with certain estimates, which are reliable. However, there needs to be oversight and management. For example, there are estimates that show that the Department plans to aid 400 000 subsistence farmers, so what happens to the other two million. Further, after three years of aid for a farmer, the State should see the farmer engaging in the commercial sector. The agriculture sector has the ability to lift people out of poverty, so the problem is not the programmes. The Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) is a good programme. The issue is implementation. The Department needs more motivation on the implementation of the programme. Government has spent millions on CASP but the issue is the effect it has on the ground and the way that it is implemented. Maybe people don't work as hard on holding the farmer’s hand. Part of the problem is people who received money in 2004, are not there now, they have left to work as domestic workers elsewhere. The vision that we have and how we implement the programme cannot be perpetual. In terms of draft legislation, they have been in draft since 2009. People have been contracted to aid the department, but the Department has not tabled that plan to the Committee. However, the Department should be answering for issues in the legislation. To respond to about forestry, the National Forest Amendment Bill should be presented to the Committee this year, but she cannot be sure. In terms of the South African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) commitments, there should be integration. This integration was talked about in the President’s SONA. For example, the issue of citrus; it is increasingly difficult to access European markets. South African farmers may not be able to meet the European requirements, but there is an outlet for their produce if South Africa expands to other parts of the African continent. If the farmers produces, but there is no demand, he ends up selling on the side of the road, which is not bad, but limiting. On water availability, if more hectares of agricultural production become active, there will be an issue with having sufficient water. Fracking has a lot of demanding consequences on water. As for water use licences, the Water and Sanitation Department has been very effective in granting the licences. Once a person receives a licence for one purpose, they simultaneously get the water use licence. This might be useful when looking at land rights. Land has been transferred to new owners, but water rights are still with the previous owners - that needs to be addressed. Climate change needs to be addressed as there can be innovation in the area of agriculture. The Committee might want to look at crops that require less water. In terms of comparative advantage, the Committee must look at what South Africa is growing. The Committee can look at groups of farmers to better gauge how much and what South Africa is growing. The whole point is to improve people’s lives. Again on water rights the National Development Plan (NDP) has goals, but those goals need to be managed well. In terms of available financial support, the department needs to be slightly better at coordinating funds. 

Ms Mgxashe said that the staff will provide the documents that the Committee needs. Packaging of all issues will be provided as well. The package will be categorised under policies and legislation. Adding to the water rights issue, in terms of innovation, one of the things that has not been tapped is water harvesting. The Land Bank used to report to agriculture, but because of mismanagement a decision, which involved a court case, was made in July 2008, where the bank was transferred to the National Treasury. The last Committee had been struggling to get the Land Bank to report to it. She suggested an alliance with the Standing Committee on Finance, since they have access to the Land Bank. However, there will be challenges due to differing goals. The Land Bank is commercially oriented, but it is meant to help financially disadvantaged farmers. In conclusion, the bank is commercial in that it tried to professionalise the lending process to ensure that the people they assist are successful. This is opposed to other policies where they lend people money, even if their enterprise does not seem promising. In terms of legislation amendments, the Department of Environmental Affairs administers legislation such as the Marine Resources Act. As such, implementation across departments will prove to be a challenge.

On Ms Steyn’s question on marginal lands, the point is not so much about quality but about things like water and infrastructure; those are the issues that make land marginal land. In some cases, degradation has been high, and so special analysis will be necessary to properly assess this. As for deadlines, some policies do have deadlines, but others do not have specific deadlines.

On issue that Mr Mandela raised, with small-scale producers, the issue is one that has complicated definitions. She felt that the sector needed intervention. There are people who are between small-holder farmer and subsistence farmer. There are people who harvest as subsistence farmers, but one year they do really well, and then they must sell or decide to go bigger. In some African countries, they do have a specific definition for those farmers, but in South Africa the focus is on rural development. In addition one has communal farming communities, which makes categorisation hard. On the question of how to better handle mentorships, some are working, others not. Whether they work depends on the capacity of the Department. In some mentorship programmes, the mentor is the previous holder of the farm and so the mentor runs business as usual and does not transfer the skills to the beneficiary. As for the question on employment StatSA should have the answer as to what it means to be a permanent versus a temporary worker.

The Chairperson thanked the presenters and the Members and asked if there were any other questions.

Ms Steyn said that she felt that the Department was too preoccupied on how to spend the money as opposed to making a change. If they report to the Committee every week on how much they spend, and the Committee monitors how they spend the money, the Committee will be able to make a lot of change.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would look at the analysis by the staff. The Committee’s task is to make the Department accountable for the sake of the citizens of South Africa.

The meeting was adjourned.

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