Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries response to Committee oversight questions, with Deputy Minister

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

15 March 2016
Chairperson: Ms M Semenya (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

South Africans need to pray for the budget of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture echoed this when the Department responded to concerns of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on matters that arose from engagements with the Department. The Deputy Minister said the budget issue has been raised many times, year after year. When it came to budget, agriculture needs to be looked at with a better eye, not with a jaundiced eye.

However, Members felt the country needs to pray for rain instead, and try to push for more allocations for agriculture. The Department should start working towards packaging things correctly.

During this engagement it surfaced that some monies belonging to the Department of Agriculture, forestry and Fisheries are scattered all over the departments but no one knows where this money goes to and who is responsible for collecting it. The Committee said the Deputy Minister of Finance confirmed this information, but the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and fisheries denied it in the meeting.

On Fisheries, the Committee heard that the Africana vessel has been to sea for testing and is ready to sail. This was witnessed. It was also stated the President has signed the Marine Living Resources Act.

On Forestry, it was reported that progress has not been satisfactory regarding the implementation of the 100 000ha and 40 000ha of forests to be realised in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, respectively. The Department is waiting for water licence approvals.

The Department further stated there is no plan from Treasury to replenish the Mafisa Fund. The Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme funded Mafisa in initial stages. Improvement Plans for the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme and Mafisa had been done, but the Presidency asked DAFF to halt the replenishing process until the research being conducted on small-growers is finalised. On challenges regarding the implementation of the Transformation Charter, the Department stated there are no legal imperatives that hold companies accountable; another problem is around points that appear not to be measurable on the ground.

On the veterinary profession and compulsory community service, the Department informed the Committee there is a leakage in the system because Commonwealth countries employ and register veterinarians from SA without testing them. That is why there is a need for a compulsory community service, especially in rural areas.

The Department further stated that mobile clinics formed part of the system of compulsory community service. They had been revitalised so that students and graduates could have the kind of equipment they need in order to do their work. The vehicles are working and in good condition. Because there are budget-cuts, from an operational point of view, the Department might not be able to run the Compulsory Community Service but funds would be reprioritised in order to continue with the programme. Next year the Department will need R135 million to run the Compulsory Community Service.

On the Fetsa Tlala programme, the Department said it is possible to reach the target of 1 million ha of land to be under production by 2018/19.The concept is being revised and the Department would like to bring other partners like Grain SA, Patrice Motsepe Foundation, and Traditional Leaders.

The Department also reported that both the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Fund and Letsema funds (R226m) meant for drought relief have provided support to the farmers. The Department has spoken to Treasury for money to be used for drought relief. Grain smallholders have been trained and capacitated to meet the quality requirements of the market. Capacity building is continuing.

On the alignment of State Owned Enterprises, the Department has spoken with Treasury about the relationship between Ncerha and the Agricultural Research Council. Ncerha still has to be deregistered, but it would still continue working with the Agricultural Research Council and for distributing ready material to farmers. 

Meeting report

Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries on outstanding matters/information emanating from Committee engagements

Ms Z Jongbloed (DA) wanted to know if the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) had statistics for areas afforested by small-growers, and how far the Department had gone with the grant framework. She also asked how small-growers survived during the 10-year period of waiting for their harvest.

Dr M Tau, Deputy Director-General in Forestry and Natural Resources Management, replied that figures for areas planted are standing at 3193. The grant framework was the Department’s target for the 2015/16 period and the Committee would be briefed about it at a later stage. Regarding how small-growers survive while waiting for harvest, the Agro-forestry Strategy would be finalised this year in order to look at things like agro-processing so that they could be involved in it while waiting.

Mr Z Mandela (ANC) asked how far DAFF had gone in implementing the 100 000ha and 40 000ha of forests to be realised in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. He further wanted to know what the Department is doing to assist communities and traditional leaders that had vast land that could be used for forestry.

Dr Tau reported that progress in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal has not been satisfactory. Licences had been issued to cover only a certain thousand hectares. The Department is waiting for water licence approvals. On community beneficiation, a White Paper was being developed to encourage community participation. Those who had won land claims have been paid already, but not all of them. The planting process is a determining factor because there is a grazing and foresting period. A debate was taking place between the Department, community representatives and traditional leaders about the use of land for forestry.

Ms A Steyn (DA) asked how much money was received so far in interest on state land rentals and how much has been given to communities. Whom did the Kabelo Trust report to yearly?

Dr Tau reported that a sum of R340 million had been received from rentals and communities were paid R95 million. The Kabelo Trust is managed by DAFF and reports to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Mr C Maxegwana (ANC) remarked that being involved in forestry would bring positive spin-offs for women in rural communities. This would ensure infrastructure development in terms of creating jobs.

Dr Tau replied that DAFF is looking at the totality of beneficiation matters, funding arrangements, and regulatory processes for forestry development. Current proposals with communities are around renewable energy.

The Chairperson commented that DAFF made a commitment to the previous Committee that accommodation conditions of the workers in *Ethwa Farm (unsure of spelling, not on google) would be bettered, but no report has been received yet. She also wanted to know if money received would be used for the skills development of the youth because it appears that provinces do not seem to care about skills development. Considering budget cuts, she asked if DAFF is considering using other alternatives of funding especially for programmes like Mafisa. She asked what the real problem was regarding the Transformation Charter implementation.

Dr Tau responded that DAFF officials were attending to the matter of Ethwa farm. On skills development, the problem lay with the sector. Companies have to achieve a 40% element of compliance. This element is going to reward companies that have taken up graduates for internship. On budget-cuts, DAFF is developing a grant framework and is exploring other funding options.

The Acting Director-General added there is no plan from Treasury to replenish the Mafisa Fund. Mafisa was funded by CASP in initial stages. Improvement Plans for CASP and Mafisa have been done, but the Presidency has asked DAFF to halt the replenishing process until the research it is conducting on small-growers is finalised.

Dr Tau, regarding the Transformation Charter, reported there are no legal imperatives that hold companies accountable. The Charter is dangling a carrot to companies so that they do business with DAFF.

The Deputy Minister added that another problem is around points. It appears they are not measurable on the ground. There is a weakness on the enforcement of the decisions DAFF takes for conditions on the ground. The Charter and points need to be revisited to see if they measure conditions on the ground. The codes come from the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) and it needs to change them into Act because the very same companies that need to do something contribute 40% funding to forestry while 60% comes from the state. One needs to be eclectic when dealing with these companies.

Ms Steyn remarked that there did not seem to be progress in finalising land claims. The Committee needs detailed information on progress made on land claims, and she wanted to know challenges regarding the financing of small-growers.

Dr Tau explained that challenges are around licences and start-up costs. The target is 10 000 hectares per year. Water licences have got an impact on the implementation.

The Deputy Minister further indicated there are environmental challenges. He had met with the Department of Environmental Affairs and they felt there was a need to involve the Water and Sanitation Department. He hoped the meeting between the three departments would finally take place.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee wants to see progress on work done by DAFF. The Department needs to finalise all funding initiatives, grant frameworks, and finances to small-growers. On skills development, the Department needs to commit the companies to its programmes, and DAFF needs to engage the dti on the r Response to questions on veterinarians:

Response to questions on veterinarians:

Ms Steyn asked if the Compulsory Community Service for veterinarians would be affected by budget-cuts, and for clarity on why people could not be employed because of employment equity regulations yet there is a shortage of veterinarians in rural areas.

Mr R Ramasodi, Deputy Director-General in Agriculture Production, Health and Safety: explained that from an operational point of view the Department might not be able to run the Compulsory Community Service but funds would be reprioritised in order to continue with the programme. On shortage of veterinarians in rural areas, he stated that deviations are made to make sure services are available to the people, and it must be understood that the veterinary profession is a scarce skill.

Ms Jongbloed asked for clarity on why many veterinary graduates leave after graduation when there is a compulsory community service for them. She asked what the progress is regarding the demographics of students trained in veterinary studies in the University of Pretoria.

The Acting Director-General stated there is a shortage of veterinarians countrywide. There is a leakage in the system because Commonwealth countries employ and register veterinarians from SA without testing them, which was why there was a need for a compulsory community service, especially in rural areas. But young graduates prefer to go the urban areas.

Mr Ramasodi, concerning student demographics, explained that when that faculty was closed at MEDUNSA, the belief was that all students would go to Pretoria University. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Now plans are to have a different faculty at another university in order to address the matter.

Mr Maxegwana remarked that DAFF is not doing enough to inform our people of the veterinary services we have and how people can access them. No information is available in villages and townships on veterinary services.

Mr Ramasodi said more could be done to make people aware of available services.

The Chairperson asked which areas are being serviced by the mobile clinics and if they had all the necessary equipment. She also asked for clarity on issues raised by the survey like the uneven treatment of veterinarians.

The Acting Director-General stated that mobile clinics formed part of the system of compulsory community service. They have been revitalised so that students and graduates could have the kind of equipment they need in order to do their work. The clinics are adequately equipped. The vehicles are working. The only impediment would be budget-cuts. With regard to the uneven treatment of veterinary services, he reported that when an evaluation was done, it was raised that veterinary services should be centralised. But it remained a concurrent function unless the Constitution decided otherwise. It is an area DAFF wants to use available resources on, especially in rural areas, and to ensure that veterinarians in rural areas work comfortable when they are compared to the ones in urban areas. DAFF is now identifying an area to post the next intake of veterinarians, especially those areas that never had veterinary services before.

Mr N Capa (ANC) asked for clarity on “any interested parties” in the selection of compulsory community service. He also asked for clarity on choices of young people not wanting to go to rural areas. He asked if there are initiatives in place to change the problem of scarce skills so that they do not remain scarce.

Mr Ramasodi explained that anyone, community or state, had the right to apply to acquire a compulsory community veterinarian. In the implementation of the system there would be mobile clinics and proper infrastructure. DAFF is going to erect prefab structures in rural areas. Concerning choices of young people, the young are given very few choices but that is determined by the needs. A person might be posted to an urban area, but has to work on the outskirts of that area. Travelling is involved. DAFF is cutting down on the Compensation of Employees in order to accommodate the CCS programme. He admitted there are gaps but there is work in progress and the movement is in the right direction.

The Deputy Minister added that the movement of young professionals to cities is a national trend affecting all the professions. This would only stop if there were equal development in the country. The trend is not new. Those that get posted to rural areas stay there for a year, and after finishing the service, they go to Sandton to start their own things.

Mr Ramasodi, regarding scarce skills, indicated there are interventions in place in the form of bursaries.

The Chairperson asked why DAFF has allowed uneven distribution of veterinarians when the Compulsory Community Service is a national programme and that the motivation to Treasury was based on the needs and that big cities had private veterinarians. It must be remembered that animals could not speak for themselves. It is understandable with human doctors because there could be interventions in terms of security, allowances, etc.

Mr Ramasodi noted that the CCS is not implemented outside the scope of the province. Provinces have to do supervision and mentorship on veterinarians allocated. The CCS is a new programme and DAFF had to look at where to place them. There is a need to ensure there is infrastructure in those needy areas, and this has been extended to extension officers as well, which is why travelling is involved. DAFF had to look at ways of slowly integrating the CCS to what is already done. DAFF is also looking at the possibility of having resident veterinarians in rural areas and growing the staff numbers in provinces. When distribution is done, DAFF looks at the need, mentorship, transport availability, facilities, and experience to manage the system. But it is difficult to wait to resolve all those issues. That is why the Department decided, “to learn as it goes” while providing the required services.

Ms Steyn asked if the DAFF budget for CCS includes contribution from provinces.

Mr Ramasodi explained that the budget would be reprioritised. For instance, next year in order to run the CCS the Department is going to need R135 million. When the costing was done, it was based on the assumption and it had to be revised because of the conditions on the ground. Provinces only do mentorship and supervision on allocated veterinarians.

The Deputy Minister said people need to pray for the budget of DAFF. This has been raised many times, year after year. Of the total budget, R2bn goes to CASP. The rest is given to entities. When it comes to budget, agriculture needs to be looked at with a better eye, not with a jaundiced eye.

Ms Steyn replied let us not pray for the budget, but push for more allocation. The only thing we need to pray for is the rain. There is a need to work towards packaging things correctly.

Mr Maxegwana remarked that the lack of awareness about veterinarians is part of the socialisation process. Even to those Blacks staying in the suburbs, veterinary services are unknown. This must be understood in the context of economic strength.

The Chairperson commented she had met with the Deputy Minister of Finance. Their conversation revealed that the budget of DAFF is in all the departments of the state like the dti, DRDLR, DEA, etc. But it is not known who is going to collect the money, and it is not clear where this money goes. For instance, there is the Fetsa Tlala programme, but the graph of poverty in the country is on the rise. She asked if it is not time that the scattered money be allocated to the Department.

The Deputy Minister replied that this could not be true. South Africa is part of SADC. It was agreed that 10% of the budget of these countries be used for agriculture. But that has proved to be impossible. He had talks with the dti and Treasury regarding agro-processing, and had asked Treasury to increase CASP money from R4m to R6m because this is the money of the Department. Some of these things were not true.

Mr Capa remarked there comes a point where a determination has to be made of where the agriculture money should go to because, sometimes, you discover that the Social Development Department is doing projects related to agriculture, which is something that should be done by DAFF.

Responses to Fetsa Tlala questions/concerns:

Ms Jongbloed asked if the Department is on track to reach the target of 1 million ha of land to be under production by 2018/19.

The Acting Director-General said it is a possibility. The concept is being revised and the Department would like to bring other partners like Grain SA, Patrice Motsepe Foundation, and Traditional Leaders.

The Chairperson wanted to find out how the 20% of CASP budget allocated for drought relief is going to be managed. She asked if targets have been revised for this programme and if it has been affected by drought because its intention was to build smallholder farmers.

The Acting Director-General replied that both CASP and Letsema funds (R226m) meant for drought have provided support to the farmers. DAFF had already spoken to Treasury for money used for drought. On growing smallholders, he said grain smallholders have been trained and capacitated to meet the quality requirements of the market. Capacity building is continuing.

Ms Steyn commented it is important for the Committee to get the database of smallholders in order to understand the baseline. She asked what the yield is on the summaries of production and stated that people are not educated to learn to be self-sufficient.

The Acting Director-General stated that DAFF continues to work on the database. Two provinces are working on the design to avoid repeating the same support to the same farmer so that they could be held accountable. Regarding the yield, it was intended for grains and it also now includes the planting of vegetables.

The Chairperson asked if the Department had shown interest in the research done by the ARC about the development of the drought resistant seed. She also enquired if the mechanisation policy has been finalised in terms of managing government tractors and money to cooperatives. She asked if the standardisation of prices for grants has been finalised because the Eastern Cape is the only province paying for grants.

The Acting Director-General, regarding research, replied that DAFF needs to encourage the multiplication of the seed for distribution. Support is already given for the multiplication of it. Concerning the standardisation of prices, he reported there are a number of things to be resolved with the DRDLR in terms of payments. As long as DAFF continues with CASP grant funding, it is felt that we would not grow our farmers. The guideline is that people should pay 10%. On the mechanisation policy, the Comprehensive Producer Support framework is consulting with other national departments and (a report?) would be presented to the Committee before it goes to the Cabinet.

Responses to alignment of SOEs:

Ms Steyn asked if there were strategies in place for changing the funding model of CASP and Ilima/Letsema.

The Acting Director-General explained there would no wholesale changes on the conditional grants when the Comprehensive Producers’ Support framework has been finalised. When it has been finalised, then CASP would be a stand-alone.

The Chairperson wanted to know if, as indicated in the document of good quality livestock, the ARC still does research and Ncerha provides for the practicality. She also asked for an update on the Revitalisation Strategy of the Irrigation Schemes.

The Acting Director-General, with regard to Ncerha and ARC, reported they had spoken with Treasury. Ncerha still has to be deregistered, but it would still continue to be used for ready material to be distributed to farmers and would continue working with the ARC. Concerning the Irrigation Strategy, he said it had been developed and would be sent to the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned. 

Share this page: