Drought response plan: GrainSA, ARC, South African Weather Service & Land Bank: Plant Improvement & Plant Breeders’ Rights Bills: voting

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

20 September 2016
Chairperson: Ms M Semenya (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was told that the objective of the meeting was to evaluate the drought response plan’s readiness to assist all stakeholders. The Minister of Finance had said that R1 billion funding would be released to alleviate the drought, but she did not think that amount would be enough to provide effective relief.

AgriSA said the drought had placed significant pressure on farm incomes and on cash flow. The impact of the drought on livestock was clear to see in the grazing conditions, and the impact on extensive livestock industries that depended on grazing had been catastrophic. The support required by farmers included soft loans aimed at the revitalisation of herding buildings. Farm workers needed a state guarantee scheme aimed at the relief of outstanding debt. Commodities that were severely affected included maize, wheat, groundnuts, beef, sheep, goats, poultry, diary, vegetables and sugar. Assistance from government departments in relation to the drought had been minimal. AgriSA had assisted farmers through providing trucks, and had donated water tanks, bags of feed pellets and bales.

GrainSA said that there had been warning signs of the drought, and the sector had thus been able to prepare thoroughly. However, there had been a need to import maize, particularly white maize, into the country.  The logistics in relation to imports had been very successful. Prices would remain high until February 2017. The main challenge for the small scale farmers was their ability to access funding due to the requirement of providing collateral. There was a strong need for crop insurance and guarantees.

The African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) said that the drought had affected about three million small holder farmers. In the month of September 2016, a great number of animals had died. Government did not have the capacity to deliver the support required by the farmers. The minimum resources provided by the government had been poorly coordinated. Small holder farmers had recommended that farm worker salaries should be subsidised to avoid job losses. Government should consider writing off the debts of small holder farmers, as this had been a common practice even of the old political regime. Government should consider the implementation of a subsidised index-based insurance scheme for small holder farmers.

The Plant Improvement Bill and the Plant Breeders Rights Bill were presented to the Committee. However, Members questioned and critiqued the bills, resulting in them being redirected back to the Department’s legal team for review.   

Meeting report

Opening remarks by Chairperson

The Chairperson said that the objective of the meeting was to evaluate the drought response plan’s readiness to assist all stakeholders. The Minister of Finance had said that R1 billion funding would be released to alleviate the drought, but she did not think that amount would be enough to provide effective relief.

The purpose of the meeting was to ensure that the objectives of the Department were implemented timeously and effectively in order for it to make a meaningful contribution through addressing the challenges faced by communities and farmers.  In her conclusion, the Chairperson commented that the Department of Rural Development had implemented Agri Parks, and she wanted to find out how the initiative had benefited the community.

AgriSA on Drought Response Feedback

Ms Annelize Crosby, Legal Advisor and Parliamentary Representative for AgriSA, quoted the Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) as indicating that the impact of the drought on the maize crops had been a 26% decrease in planting. The maize area planted had decreased by 27.1%, and the decline was more severe in the white maize area.

The drought had placed significant pressure on farm incomes and on cash flow. The impact of the drought on livestock was clear to see in the grazing conditions, and the impact on extensive livestock industries that depended on grazing had been catastrophic. The support required by farmers included soft loans aimed at the revitalisation of herding buildings. Farm workers needed a state guarantee scheme aimed at the relief of outstanding debt.

The commodities that were severely affected included maize, wheat, groundnuts, beef, sheep, goats, poultry, diary, vegetables and sugar.

Assistance from government departments in relation to the drought had been minimal. AgriSA had assisted farmers through providing trucks, and had donated water tanks, bags of feed pellets and bales.

In conclusion she said that a comprehensive audit must be carried out on how the national and provincial agriculture departments had assisted farmers. Crop insurance was required as a safeguarding mechanism for farmers in the future, and government had to subsidise crop insurance premiums to some extent.

Drought Response by GrainSA

Mr Dirk Strydom, Manager: Grain Economy, GrainSA, said that there had been warning signs of the drought, and the sector had thus been able to prepare thoroughly. Regions such as the Free State had already planted 20% throughout the area.  In January 2016, they had been able to plant approximately 700 hectares, and he asserted that this was due to prior preparation.

Due to the drought, there had been a need to import maize, particularly white maize, into the country. 
The logistics in relation to imports had been very successful. One key practice that would assist would be early deliveries. He said that prices would remain high until February 2017.

Mr Strydom said that GrainSA had been in collaboration with AgriSA in relation to the response to the drought. The main challenge for the small scale farmers was their ability to access funding due to the requirement of providing collateral. He concluded that the guarantees were more prioritised to state- owned entities like South African Airways (SAA), but there no guarantees on food supply, and asserted that the priority should be redirected to food security.
 

Many farmers were negatively impacted by the drought, and some farmers could not produce, particularly small scale and emerging farmers. There was a strong need for crop insurance and guarantees.

African Farmers Association of South Africa on Drought Response
Mr Aggrey Mahanjana, Secretary General: African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) said that the drought had affected about three million small holder farmers. In the month of September 2016, a great number of animals had died. Government did not have the capacity to deliver the support required by the farmers. The minimum resources provided by the government had been poorly coordinated.

Small holder farmers had recommended that farm worker salaries should be subsidised to avoid job losses. Government should consider writing off the debts of small holder farmers, as this had been a common practice even of the old political regime. 

Mr Mahanjana said that government should consider the implementation of a subsidised index-based insurance scheme for small holder farmers. There was a need to introduce an electronic farmer register and transaction card that would assist in delivering assistance to farmers during drought period.

Discussion

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) said that in 2013-2014, the Premier of North West Province had announced that R400 million was available for farmers, but he had not received any information in relation to this R400 million. He wanted to know who had stolen this money. Once government made money available, then there were individuals who saw that as an opportunity to get their hands on state funds.

He suggested that established farmers who had been assisted in the past should assist small scale farmers, and said that he would be reluctant to assist established farmers who had benefited from the past regime. He probed the relationship between the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), saying that harvesting the sea’s resources could assist in providing alternatives during a period of drought.

The Chairperson responded that the R400 million rand had not been stolen, but had been kept by the Land Bank.

Mr Paulsen said that if the issue was the need for farmers to provide collateral, then the government should find ways to assist.

Ms Nomawethu Gqiba, Chairperson: Agriculture Department, Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, said that other countries would evaluate their different provinces. She asserted that the Eastern Cape was not a priority in terms of mining or farming, but it had vast areas of land that could be utilised for farming and planting. She agreed that there had been a great lack of coordination with drought relief efforts, and said that GrainSA needed to do more.

Mr N Capa (ANC) probed the issue of rising costs due to the drought, and said that the increase in costs should be monitored. He asked who would stand up for the rights of the poor when prices increased. The poor coordination was a serious issue -- a strategic plan was needed to combat the issue of poor coordination. He concluded by asking how farmers would develop beyond being just emerging farmers.

Ms A Steyn (DA) said that she was concerned that the Minister could not provide a response as to how many livestock existed. She probed the exact percentage of farmers assisted by GrainSA. She agreed with AgriSA that an audit must done by government. There was a great need to look at crop insurance

Mr P Maloyi (ANC) said that the challenges and recommendations from all three presentations had been similar. He questioned the assertion that there needed to be an investigation into state funds, as well as the statement that the institution had received minimal support from government.

The Chairperson said the oversight that the Committee had done in Limpopo had shown that South Africans were being replaced by foreign workers, and asked how this would affect the issue of a subsidy.

Mrs Crosby responded that government had been slow in terms of providing assistance, but AGRISA was not saying that government had been completely silent. The basis for suggesting the audit request was more of an issue of transparency, and did not necessarily imply any corruption.

Mr Strydom said that assistance had been given, based on merit and need.  The Eastern Cape was significant to GrainSA. However, they could not get small scale farmers to develop effectively because they were unable to access funding due to lack of collateral.

The Chairperson concluded that the three stakeholders should coordinate and work together.

Finalisation of the Plant Improvement Bill

Ms Phumelele Ngena, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, said that the Portfolio Committee in its previous meeting had made amendments and deliberated, and the legal team, through the instructions of the Portfolio Committee, had made the changes as required.

She suggested that the name of the Department should still be the Department responsible for Agriculture, and asked the Committee to allow the Minister and President to be responsible for the name change.

Register of businesses and premises
Clause 5
To add the date which would specify the time frames. This had been done. 

Register of Varieties
Clause 6
Insertion of the timeframe, which would be seven days.

Inspection of documents submitted in connection with applications for listing
Clause 8 (2)
The Committee recommended that a timeframe should be added, which was within seven days

Registration of business and premises
Clause 12
The Committee agreed to the insertion of a  timeframe that specified a period within 21 days.

Application for national listing
Clause 28(7)b
The Committee requested the removal of the clause.

Chapter 8
Evaluation for distinctness, uniformity and stability

The Portfolio Committee requested that the word ‘evaluation’ be changed to ‘examination.’

Evaluation of variety for value, cultivation and use
Clause 38(6)
Change the timeframe from within 14 days, to 21 days.

Investigation and consideration by board
Clause 49(1)
Inserted ‘may’ and removed ‘must’ in relation to the Minister referring an appeal to the Board.

Disclosure of information
Clause 56
The Committee proposed that from subsection b) of clause 56(1), everything should be removed. Ms Ngena, however, advised that the removal of the clause should not hamper the National Prosecuting Authority as well as the justice system, and advised the Committee to keep the clause mentioned.

Ms Steyn asked whether there was any legislation from other departments, and if there was any reason why the department should have separate legislation

Mr Capa recommended that the legal team of the Department should revisit the bill and provide a thorough analysis.

Mr Maloyi wanted to know why it was a criminal offence, as per clause 56, if someone refused to make a statement. He quoted section 35 of the South African Constitution, which gives citizens the right to remain silent.

Ms Ngena responded that the Act would guide the justice system, whether through a civil or a criminal matter. She asserted that clause formed the basis which would be utilised by the judiciary as well as citizens, who would comprehend what the law expected from them in relation to compliance.

The Chairperson requested the legal team to revisit the clause and further discussions would continue afterwards.

Plant Breeders Rights Bill

Ms Kanthi Nagiah, Chief Director: Legal Services, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said that the changes to the Plant Breeders Rights Bill were similar to those for the Plant Improvement Bill.

Register of plant breeders rights
Clause 4(1)
Inserted a time frame specifiying a 14 day period.

Inspection of documents submitted in connection with an application for plant Breeders Rights
Clause 6
The Committee agreed to insert a timeframe specifying 15 days.

Objections to application for grant of plant breeders rights
Clause 22(3)
The Committee recommended that after the word ‘objection,’ add ‘within 60 days.’

Hearing of objection
Clause 29(7)
Remove ‘seven days’ and insert ‘within 21 days.’

Right to appeal
Clause 41
The initial clause has been rejected

The Chairperson recommended that the legal team should go and revisit the bills.

Mr Capa said that should the legal team have alternative resolutions, that they should bring them to the Committee.

The Chairperson said that it was a worrying factor that the Minister was absent.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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