Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme 2014/15: Department Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries update in presence of Minister; National Agricultural Marketing Council nominations

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

15 March 2016
Chairperson: Mr O Sefako (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee, with the Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries also present, received a briefing on the progress and achievements on two of the conditional grants for 2014/15 – namely, the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme Grants and the Ilima-Letsema. This presentation did not cover the third grant, Land Care. The aim of the two grants was, by 2019, to allow the Department to increase the number of smallholder supported farms to 300 000, to achieve linkages of 80 000 smallholder farms to markets, to use one million hectares of underutilised land, by putting it under irrigation, and to protect 200 000 vulnerable households from food insecurity. The Department needed to clarify some crucial terms and to have a centralised system of agriculture management for recordal of information and to ensure proper linkage of national and provincial targets and outcomes. The performance of the grants in the 2014/15 financial year was described. CASP received R1.8 billion of which 96.6% was spent, mostly on supporting farmers, and for extension services, bolstering agricultural colleges and disaster management. CASP had refinanced Ilima-Letsema to reach more land. The grants were supposed to be a partnership between national and provincial departments but only five provinces had used some of their equitable share to reach the objectives. Implementation of the projects happened at local level but according to national directives, and although monitoring should take place through quarterly visits, it had just not been possible to visit each project, so sampling was used. 804 projects were targeted for completion under CASP in this financial year, but 661 were completed, 123 were ongoing and 20 had been dropped. CASP assisted 16 000 subsistence farmers but it was recognised that farmers needed access to markets. It was estimated that 5 673 jobs were created. R26 million had been allocated for the purpose of training, and 19 204 farmers benefitted.

Members asked for assurances that the CASP funding was actually assisting those for whom it was originally intended – namely, small upcoming farmers. They asked how spending was monitored to ensure that money was directed to support of farmers, rather than going to pay service providers, asked about the quality of training and what type of instruction was given, particularly if help was given in drafting business plans. Members asked about the causes of underperformance in some provinces, asked if the destination of produce was known, wanted to know what would happen where no markets could be found, and asked about dropped projects and how many people these affected, levels of need for drought relief and mechanisms used. They asked how successful the training had been, given that there were less extension officers actually recruited than the targeted numbers. Members asked that in future the DAFF must report on the success rate, and report on associations between food security and Agriparks.

Members adopted minutes of 16 February and 1 March 2016 but did not have sufficient time to deal with the nomination to the Committee for the vacancy on the National Agricultural Marketing Council, but this task was delegated to the Chairperson. 

Meeting report

Chairperson and Minister's opening remarks
The Chairperson and Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo) expressed their concern that the documents from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF or the Department) had been made available only at a very late stage, which did not give the Committee sufficient time to scrutinise them.

Mr Senzeni Zokwana, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, apologised for the late submission of the documents. This was not in any way intended to display lack of respect and regard for the Committee; in fact the opposite, because the Department was meticulous in its preparation of documents.

The Project leader of the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) within the Department, spoke to two of the three conditional grants given to provinces, namely IIlima-Letsema and CASP, and noted that the presentation would not include the third conditional grant, for Land Care. The Project leader of the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) within the Department, spoke to two of the three conditional grants given to provinces, namely IIlima-Letsema and CASP, and noted that the presentation would not include the third conditional grant, for Land Care. She outlined the key Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) indicators that these two grants related to, and the allocation, monitoring and reporting of provincial grants, expenditure and performance. The Department aimed, by using the conditional grants to achieve the following by 2019:
- increasing the number of smallholder supported farms to 300 000,
- achieving linkage of 80 000 smallholder farms to markets
- using one million Hectares (ha) of underutilised land, by putting it under irrigation
- protection of 200 000 vulnerable households from food insecurity .

She noted that in order to do this effectively, the Department needed to clarify crucial terms, including subsistence, commercial, small holder and mechanisms of support. The Department identified the need to have a centralised system of agriculture information management to accurately record information and link the national and provincial targets and outcomes. This was an ongoing problem area.

For the 2014/2015 financial year CASP received a total amount of R1.8 billion, and managed to achieve 96.6% expenditure on the grant. The bulk of the money received was spent on supporting farmers. The money was also directed at extension services, bolstering agricultural colleges and disaster management. She noted that the directive taken by CASP to refinance IIlima-Letsema was to ensure that more land could be reached, as the initial funding had been insufficient. It was mentioned that while the grants project was a partnership between national government and the provinces, only Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Kwa Zulu-Natal and the Western Cape put up some of their equitable share in achieving the agricultural objectives.

She reminded the Committee that the two conditional grants were guided by the Division of Revenue Act, which dictates that provinces are to provide monthly financial reports, quarterly financial report and annual financial reports to the national level. She informed the Committee that identification and implementation of projects was done at the local level but was guided by the national strategy and national direction. The right number of staff were assigned to oversee the projects.

She noted that, in relation to monitoring and reporting, one major challenge included the fact that quarterly monitoring of projects implemented should ideally have been done by departmental visits to each of the projects. However, due to budgetary constraints, this was not possible. The Department therefore took the decision to monitor the progress in the ongoing projects by way of sampling. This was not ideal but since the provinces submit reports on the grants quite frequently this would give sufficient information.

The DAFF had committed, in the 2014/15 financial year, to completing 804 projects under CASP, of which 661 were completed, 123 were ongoing and 20 projects had been dropped by the end of the 2014/2015 financial year. CASP had managed to assist 16,000 subsistence farmers. She stressed that smallholder farmers needed to become commercialised, as it was noted that those farmers who had access to markets made more money than those farmers who were working to contracts. There were currently around 56% of farmers who had access to markets. In total, 87 445 farmers were supported through CASP in the 2014/2015 financial year. The grant created employment, through construction works, mechanisation processes and employment on the farms to increase their efficiency, and it was reported that overall 5 673 jobs were created. R26 million had been allocated for the purpose of training, and courses were offered with and without credits. 19 204 farmers are said to have benefitted from this.

The Chairperson was excused to attend to an urgent matter, and Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) also had indicated that she would need to leave early/

Mr M Ray (ANC, Eastern Cape) took over the chair.

Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape) was concerned that the CASP funding was not assisting those for whose benefit it was originally intended, the small upcoming farmers. She enquired how the Department monitored the spending to ensure that the money was being directed at the support of the farmers, rather than going to pay service providers such as implementation agencies or brokers. She suggested that more comprehensive oversight was necessary. She enquired as to the quality of the training, and whether the farmers would receive instruction particular to their agricultural specialisation. She mentioned that she had received complaints in regard to the requirement that farmers must draw up business plans, asking if there was support provided for this.

Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo) noted that there had been underperformance in some of the provinces, enquired as to the causes of this and what was being done to aid the situation. He asked whether the Department was able to ascertain the destination of produce grown by farmers assisted by the scheme. Speaking to the dropped projects, he noted that Limpopo and North West both had high rates of dropped projects, and asked that the Department should provide a list, showing where each of these dropped projects was located, and the reasons why they had been abandoned. He also wanted to know the level of need in each province for drought relief, and the mechanisms being employed by the Department to alleviate the situation. He asked about the standard cost of sinking boreholes.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) added to the point raised by Mr Smit in relation to the dropped projects, and requested that the Department should also mention the number of people directly affected by the decision to desert the projects. She enquired what would happen in a case where farmers lacked markets to sell their goods, and the recourse to be taken by the Department if the service providers failed to deliver. She noted that the number of extension officers recruited had fallen below the target, and therefore enquired how successful the training was that had been conducted.

Mr E Mlambo (UDM, Eastern Cape) also asked about the training, pointing out that there were no colleges in his district that could upskill the youth in agricultural practices.

Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) requested the Department’s definition of support to farmers. He mentioned that there was ambiguity regarding the financing under CASP and called for clarification. He also raised the issue of monitoring and evaluation, saying that one cause of the difficulties might be the Department's 13% vacancy rate , which probably had a a direct impact on these monitoring functions. He asked that the Department should, in future, also give an indication of the success rate of the CASP strategy in keeping with the MTSF indicators, to allow the Committee to better monitor the progress. He also asked about the association between food security programmes with Agriparks. He was of the opinion that the Department’s Annual Report presentation should have included more detail on the provincial functions such as administration.

Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) requested an explanation on the linkage of the training facilities with Premier Makhura’s plans in the West Rand, as there were some accelerated farming activities in the area.

Minister Senzeni Zokwana wanted to clarify that agriculture was a concurrent function, and as such a partnership was expected between the national and provincial spheres of government, so that the Department would be able to address in full all the matters raised. Speaking to extension services, he mentioned that Department was in negotiations to improve the service. He mentioned that the government was in talks with various stakeholders such as Grain SA and Tiger Brands to facilitate a transference of skills to smallholder farmers. With regards to financing, he noted that it was problematic that each province exercised autonomy in its disbursement of funds, as this was resulting in skewed use of the money received. The level at which the funds were distributed to the relevant areas required a re-examination. He cited that the Department was working on quality assurance of produce, with the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB), to not only improve monitoring but also improve farmers' awareness of the market. He affirmed that the Department would link with the Gauteng Province to start farmer education geared at the youth. In response to the question of market, he mentioned that the state was committed to buying 30% of produce from smallholder farmers. He also mentioned that the Department was looking into the construction of grain silos. The state should take lessons from the climate change and increase the amount of land under irrigation in order to better absorb any unexpected weather effects.

Consideration and adoption of minutes
Minutes of the meetings of 16 February 2016 and 1 March 2016 were adopted.

National Agricultural Marketing Council nominations
It was announced that there had been one nomination made to the Committee for the vacancy on the National Agricultural Marketing Council. However, given that the Committee was under time pressure and that Members had not been given sufficient time to scrutinise the nomination, it was decided that the nomination would not be dealt with today. It was pointed out that if the Chairperson was delegated to make a decision on behalf of the Committee, he would then have to write formally to the Committee, informing it of his decision.

The meeting was adjourned.

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