The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries met to receive feedback on the provincial departments’ readiness for the upcoming season with regard to planting and cropping. Grain SA and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) were also invited to present and give advice.
Grain SA gave an overview of its readiness, its farmer development programmes and an informative briefing on the crisis of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) pest that had arrived on the continent in 2016 and had since established itself throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The Committee expressed concern about how the FAW pest was going to be managed – particularly about how the pest, resources and the predicted drought were going to affect food security, especially for the poorest farmers.
The ARC gave an analysis of the climate patterns experienced in the country over the past four years as well as the predictions for the season ahead. It also announced the introduction of a new mobile app that had been developed and launched with the aim of providing advice and regularly updated location-specific information for farmers throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
Six of the country’s provinces presented on their readiness for the season ahead in terms of inputs, crops to be cultivated and farmer development. Gauteng was asked to return for a subsequent engagement, as its presentation needed to be updated
The provinces were asked what they had done to eradicate inequalities and the old apartheid human settlement arrangements that could be found. Concern was expressed that persons with disabilities were always left out of the conversation and neglected, and asked to what extent the provincial departments supported farmers with disabilities. The Committee shared a collective concern that what the Department deemed as “ready” did not necessarily translate into reality – the partners which the Department relied on may, or may not, be ready. Members sought clarity on issues such as the lack of budgets to assist subsistence farmers, how the costs of mechanisation support packages were determined, whether tractors allocated to help smallholder emerging farmers were serviceable, and whether communities in agri-villages were enjoying the benefits of the land.
The Chairperson said this meeting was a continuation from the previous week. Its purpose was to look at the readiness of the agricultural sector for the upcoming planting season, so that the Members and officials could deal with the challenges as a unit.
Mr Jannie de Villiers, Chief Executive Officer: Grain SA, said he would provide an update on Grain SA and where it was in terms of production, adding that two commercial farmers and two scientists were with him. He would be presenting on the international current standing on supplies, the local maize situation and some other crops and information on food prices, looking forward into the new season.
Internationally, for the first time in quite a few years, the maize demand had outstripped the production and that had brought some of the stock situations in the world down. At the moment, there was a huge over-supply of grain. The price of maize specifically had come down globally because of the huge production, and the ending stocks were fairly high. This was good news for consumers but obviously for farmers, low prices was not good news.
In the new season ahead there was already a higher than 50% chance that drought would come again. This was of concern, irrespective of the state of readiness. Agriculture relied on weather and rain, and in South Africa most of the food was produced by rain-fed agriculture. Currently because of the good crops in the past two seasons, the price of white maize tended to be low (around R2 000 per ton). During droughts, the price could increase by 60%, which would be a crisis in this country. A drought or any shortage caused a lot of pain to a lot of people. With yellow maize, which mainly went into animal feed; a similar trend could be seen. During a drought, the price increased to about R3 000 per tonne. Some of the good news in terms of product, was that maize prices came down substantially after the drought, as well as the maize meal prices. This was always a big debate, if the prices of maize in storage also came down while farmers were getting less.
On wheaten products, it had been seen that bread prices were not as sensitive as mealie meal, and that was purely because the farmers only got about 18% on the price of a loaf of bread. The price of wheat had come down and the price of bread had come down only slightly.
There was good news for the country on the food price index. Mr De Villiers indicated that food inflation was well below the inflation rate of other products. This helped the country to have lower inflation. Inflation for food was around 3%. It was projected that staple food prices would remain fairly flat going into the next season. However, the price of brown bread would go up due to an expected increase in foreign exchange rates, and a big portion of wheat was imported. He went through the graph on supply and demand.
On other products, there was about 1.8 million tonnes of wheat that South Africa produced and an additional 1.4 million tonnes was imported. Soya beans were at about 1.55 million tonnes produced, and sunflower was at 0.859 million tonnes.
Seed prices would increase by 5%. Fertiliser, chemicals and diesel -- which were all imported -- would increase in price due to the weakening of the exchange rate. Fertiliser and chemical prices would increase by 20% and diesel prices by 30%. These were huge costs for South Africa.
The challenges for the season included the need to open new export markets. Recently the Department had helped to open the market to Iran for exporting maize. The biggest challenge was financing for black farmers. These farmers did not own the land and could not provide collateral to the banks, and they were not producing to their full potential because of this. Other challenges were research funding and infrastructure. One thing that South Africa could do to improve food security was to provide crop insurance to farmers, as seen in other countries. Also, land policy uncertainty was making farmers very nervous.
Referring to Grain SA’s farmer development, he said that finance for black commercial farmers was a serious issue that needed to be sorted out. He quoted the winner of the Subsistence Farmer of the Year competition, Ms Mavis Hlathswayo from Hereford in Mpumalanga, who said, “since this programme started in 2015, no one in our valley was hungry”.
The Integrated Value Information System (IVIS) was a great application that allowed viewers to gain an aerial view of land and to zoom in digitally. One could look at an area, find the farm, get soil samples, and find out what was planted and how much livestock there was and more. In Grain SA’s database were all the farmers in its development programme.
There were 14 505 hectares ready to be planted this season across several provinces, and they were already receiving its allocations. The farmers had already paid in their contributions. Sponsors included ABInbev/ABSA and Schoeman Joubert. Grain SA had proposed to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) that it could do another 24 000 hectares, mostly for commercial farming, and were currently sorting out how Grain SA would support/assist the farmers in this regard.
In summary, land was fairly available. Only 30% of black farmers’ land had been planted last year because of the financing issue. It was sad that people who did have access to land could not finance and plant -- this was a problem that needed to be sorted out as a sector. Weather was an issue, but inputs were ready and supplies of food were enough. Food prices were stable and low but profitability at the farm level was low, so an above average yield was needed to break even. If there was not going to be rain between the months of September to December, that would be problematic for the maize sector, and if enough maize was not produced then prices would jump between 50%-60%.
He handed over to Dr Marinda Visser, Manager: Grain Research and Policy, to present on the surveillance and research into Fall Armyworm (FAW).
Dr Visser said Grain SA had established a national coordinating structure which was chaired by the DAFF. This committee met on a regular basis. One of the first things the committee had done was to look at how quickly the pest had spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa since its introduction to the continent in Nigeria in 2016. The FAW was a major threat to food security, not only to South Africa, but to the entire African continent. This pest came from South America, and it was very concerning to see how far it had spread in less than a year and established itself throughout many countries. The countries where it was listed as suspected/awaiting confirmation was because the sightings of the Fall Armyworm were irregular.
There was a FAW steering committee established too, and it was good to see how industry and the government (DAFF) had come to together to combat the pest. The industry bodies involved included Grain SA, the agro-chemical industry, the seed industry and different commodity organisations. Two things were established by the Steering committee -- a national surveillance programme and research. DAFF needed reliable data, and Crop Watch had been appointed to do this. Crop Watch was funded by Grain SA and the South African National Seed Organization (SANSOR). Different provincial departments of agriculture were also busy with surveillance data. The Maize Trust funded research which was being led by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and North-West University (NWU). What should be noted here was that when a problem came about, excellent partnerships were created to solve it.
From the work that had been conducted up until now, it was known that the pest was present in all nine provinces of the country. The Limpopo province was currently being watched, as it was not yet established there. Regarding the worm’s global establishment, as it was a South American insect, it was suspected that it would establish itself throughout the tropical regions of the world. The Limpopo province had tropical areas, which was cause for concern with this pest.
What had been found through the research was that the most effective insecticides worked against young larvae. When the worm reached the length of a 10 cent coin (10 millimetres), insecticides lost their power against it. Once the worm had grown longer than 10 millimetres in length, insecticides became almost completely ineffective. Farmers were currently being educated about the worm, how to identify it and to use insecticides while they were still effective. However, this could happen only if there were early warning systems in place.
In conclusion, dedicated grains biosecurity focus within DAFF was crucial. FAW surveillance would continue and expertise in FAW was needed. Partnerships between industry and government were instrumental in the surveillance and research of the pest. More funding from other commodity organisations was still being awaited. Up to now, the pest was under control in South Africa and its whereabouts was known, and insecticide resistance had to be prevented.
Mr A Madella (ANC) asked what became of the Fall Armyworm once it was larger than the 10 cent coin, and what the cooperation with ARC was with regard to combating this worm. He said it was good that the presence and location of the worm was known, but he wanted to know more about how it was going to be eradicated. It had been indicated that many Black farmers were struggling with funding, and he wanted to gain a sense of why this was happening, besides the issue of land ownership. The government should be able to intervene and give the farmers the permission they needed. He also asked about the demographics in the new era of commercial farmers, as a dramatic shift in the ownership of land was wanted. How many disabled farmers received support from Grain SA’s farmer development programme?
Ms A Steyn (DA) said she had been privileged to witness the work of Grain SA in uplifting farmers, and suggested that all Members of the Committee should see the work that was being done as well. She referred to the point where it had been stated that funding from other commodities was still being awaited for, and asked which other commodities were being affected by the FAW. She expressed concern about the high chance of the drought returning, and asked if there were farmers who were at risk for such an occurrence under Grain SA’s development programme, as the drought would be an additional issue to those farmers who struggled to obtain loans. The Minister had had discussions about crop insurance in 2015 when the drought was at its worst. There were many things that were negatively impacting farmers’ state of mind when it came to preparing readiness for planting, like the strength of the rand, a poor policy environment and the possibility of a continuing drought.
Mr N Capa (ANC) sought clarity on what was meant by “inputs were ready” in the summary given. He referred to a slide where it had indicated that the Eastern Cape province had only maize as its crop, and wanted to know why this was the case. The challenge of policy uncertainty was directly for the Department to solve -- what specifically needed to be done by the Members to resolve this?
The Chairperson reminded Members that the proper presentation on the Fall Armyworm would be presented by the DAFF, as it had been given the task of liaising with the other African countries that had been affected by the pest. Questions about regulations had also been targeted at the DAFF. She asked who had funded the One Hectare Competition, and for more clarity on it.
Mr De Villiers felt that the biggest issue was the financing for black farmers. These farmers generally worked on communal or government land, and therefore could not provide any collateral to any bank and could not get a loan. One way to solve this was to give people title deeds, as this would enable them to access finance. Another way was for the government to put up a guarantee -- to the Land Bank, for instance -- which would be the guarantee for a loan. The farmers could then, within the financial regulations and rules, receive a loan without having collateral. When there were incentives for partnerships, a lot of the white commercial farmers used their own funds to help or get engaged in a joint venture. There was not a huge number of people doing this, but it did help to sort out some of these issues.
He continued that the new era farmers were the ones that were recapitalised by the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development. Grain SA had helped them for one season and because it was a grant, the farmers take the crop, sell it, buy the farm next door and use that collateral to finance their farming and so on. The number of beneficiaries, which was currently 142, needed to increase. The grant recipients were mostly in the Free State, Mpumalanga and North West provinces. These were the areas with bigger farms, as the smaller farms could not get to the 250 tonnes necessary. Grain SA did have the geo-graphics of those farms and profiles of farmers. Farmers with disabilities had not been previously recorded, but this would be a good addition to the database. About half of the farmers were women, and most were elderly people.
Regarding the drought, three seasons ago there was a bad drought that had hit farmers very hard. The following season there had been a great crop but very low prices, so the farmers did not have the ability to recover from the financial impact of the drought. This season again there was a good crop and low prices because, as he had explained, there was plenty of stock in the world. In the Free State, some of the banks had started taking back farms, and at the moment the banks doing that could not get buyers for them because of all the uncertainty about land reform. This had made the price of land drop. When that happened, the banks revisit the farms and work out how much they need to give the farmers so that the land can be farmed again, as the collateral had been lowered.
Mr De Villiers expected that a fairly full crop would be planted this year. It was really tough for farmers because of low prices and other factors, but any story going around that farmers would not plant was not true. If it made economic sense, then farmers would plant -- they always lived and worked with uncertainty around. The only thing that stopped farmers from planting was if they could not borrow money from the bank. Discussions had been had with the banks, and they had concluded that their policy would not change until it was known what the government had decided about land reform.
He explained that what was meant by “input ready” was that the supplies were already available in the country, as most of the inputs were imported. However, the strength of the rand and conditions of the roads affected how easily accessible these supplies were to rural farmers. The uncertainty pertaining to policy was to do with the land reform. Once that was resolved, people would more confidently seek loans for investments like equipment.
Climate change had hit the country. About 60% of South Africa’s crop was produced in the west of the country, but now the west was getting drier. The eastern side had received enough rain to maintain its crops, but the land was divided to cater for the mining sector. Crop insurance would help mitigate against the risks of climate change. Most countries’ governments had a policy for this. In America, about 85% of the crop was insured, and 50% of the premium was paid for by the government.
The private sector sponsored the “One Hectare” competition, not the government, and contestants were selected across all provinces where Grain SA had development offices. Contestants were farmers who worked on communal land in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga or the Eastern Cape.
Dr Visser said that the FAW moved on to other crops when maize had been harvested -- crops like sweet corn, potatoes, sorghum, barley, wheat, sugarcane, tobacco, and the list goes on. If all of these other commodities came on board to make a contribution to research, this problem could be managed better. Eradication was the ultimate goal, but not even the South Americans had achieved this yet in the pest’s natural environment, but they did manage the problem very well. The ARC and NWU were in regular contact with researchers from Brazil to ensure an integrated pest management programme was worked out. Insecticides were just not effective once this particular pest had exceeded the length on 10 millimetres. The next step was to find out from their peers in Brazil what systems needed to be put in place in South Africa to manage the problem. One of the steps was for farmers to be in the field scouting more regularly, and looking for the pest when it was present. The Limpopo province was constantly in production of crops, which meant there was always a host for the worm to feed on. This was why it may become established there. In other provinces, after maize was harvested, there was no longer a host for the worm, and their number would decline.
Mr Sfiso Buthelezi, Deputy Minister: DAFF, touched on the funding issue. He said that funding for black entrepreneurs and black farmers was a serious issue in the country that needed to be confronted. He suggested that the Committee invite the Land Bank to present to the Members so that the challenges could be heard. There had been some interventions to try to mitigate the problems here, but the Land Bank would tell the Members that its performance was measured in the same way as any other banks, and its money was raised from the market. One of the Department’s ideas for intervention, which was happening now, was to have a grant portion and a debt portion in the applications. This would intervene, but did not solve the problem, and the money that was available was not enough.
He continued that institutions were expected to play a developmental role, but when their performance was measured, developmental progress was not included in the assessment – only profit was. When it came to depreciating exchange rates, this may increase the cost of imports but it also increased the payment from exports. This was why it was important that more access to export to international markets was established, as those were positively impacted when the strength of the rand weakened against other currencies.
The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister for his input. It was important that the Committee meet again to specifically look at the Department’s progress. The President had launched Operation Phakisa to help transform the agriculture sector, and one of its core mandates was to coordinate stakeholders and government, and to utilise the resources that were there to unleash the full potential of the sector.
Agricultural Research Council (ARC)
Dr Shadrack Moephuli, Chief Executive Officer: ARC, said the presentation would be given by his associate, Dr Mokhele Moeletsi, the Senior Researcher. The presentation had a second part which would introduce a new tool to assist farmers that was in the process of being rolled out to the Members. Dr Moephuli took the opportunity to clarify a few things that had been brought up/asked in the meeting thus far.
In respect to the Fall Armyworm, there was not an outbreak. The ARC was a part of the steering committee and made up some of the scientists who were conducting the research and surveillance. There had been a lot of false claims from farmers, but unless it had been properly identified through laboratory checks the pest could not be claimed. There was work happening in collaboration with the United Nations’ food and agriculture organisation. In fact, the ARC was leading that particular task team on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The work included training, and well over 30 people had been trained to date. The task team was in the process of putting together an implementation plan that was going to increase mapping, surveillance and the development of a biocontrol agent. Biocontrol was more efficient, as it meant research had to begin at the home centre of the pest, to find the natural enemy to properly eliminate it. The safe use of the appropriate pesticides was another issue being worked on.
On the matter of the potential rice plantations in the Eastern Cape, not all rice cultivars required a lot of water. Upland rice was effectively dry land grown rice that could be planted in almost all the areas that maize was grown. There currently was a farmer who grows rice in the NorthWest province which the ARC was consulting with, in conjunction with the Department of Science and Technology, to develop a feasibility plan for rice production in South Africa.
Dr Moeletsi recapped on how much rainfall had been received in the previous summer season. From October 2017 to December 2017, most of the country had not received enough rainfall, and it was actually below normal except in some places towards the eastern and south eastern parts. In January 2018 to March 2018, there had been an improvement in the rainfall received, especially in the Free State province and in some parts of the Eastern Cape. Even though it was a La Niña season, there had not been an above normal rainfall over the country.
He explained that the standardised precipitation Index was a drought index. In the 48-month time-scale ending in July 2018, severe drought conditions had been present over the western parts of the Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces, parts of the Eastern Cape and in larger areas in the far eastern parts of the country.
In July of 2018, a normal to above normal rainfall had occurred over parts of the western to central interior, as well as over some isolated areas in the north eastern part of the country. There had been a below normal rainfall over most of the all-year rainfall regions, as well as over important rainfall catchment regions of the Western Cape. As a response to the lack of rainfall, vegetation had been under stress, particularly in much of the Western Cape, some of the Eastern Cape, and spots in the Northern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.
From September until December, a moderate El Niño season was predicted. Days of rainfall exceeding 5mm and 15mm was predicted over large areas where summer rainfall was expected. However, when the seasonal rainfall totals were considered, there were large areas of the country that had no forecast skill at all, and some eastern parts had mixed rainfall signals. This was according to the South African Weather Service. Dr Moeletsi briefly went over the seasonal forecast issued by the Seasonal Forecast Worx, University of Pretoria.
High probabilities of warmer than normal conditions were predicted for the upcoming summer by all the different prediction centres. This could have a significant impact on crop yields. Crop water requirements were not likely to be met, a reduction of grazing capacity could occur, as well as the drying of boreholes, rivers and other water points.
The introduction of systems that reduced soil water loss or improved soil water was an intervention that had a few means of happening. Farmers should also be advised to plant at a low density to minimise competition for water between crops. Drought tolerant crops should take preference and early maturing cultivars in cases of a short rainy season. He continued to list other interventions and recommendations.
Dr Moephuli said it had been reported in previous reports that the ARC was trying to develop tools for advising farmers in terms of decision-making in agriculture. One of the major partners the ARC had worked with was the South African Weather Service, but the Dutch Space Organisation had also helped to better integrate data with agriculture information to be used for advising farmers.
Farmers required updated information daily on the specific area in which their farms were. The project Rain for Africa (R4A) had worked towards creating the ‘AgriCloud’ App, which was a mobile phone planting application which had started being rolled out on 3 September with the Dutch Ambassador, and had been operational since. It was aimed at addressing gaps in information available to small scale farmers. It provided planting advice, pesticide spraying advice and advice on preventing diseases. He described more of the specifics of the information available on the App. The App was suitable for use on simple phones which were most common with farmers, and was available in nine of the official South African languages. Use of the App was free, and really intended to be accessed by each and every farmer. He continued to show the Members the layout of the App, how to download it and register on it.
Dr Moephuli said that there was also a monthly climate and vegetation monitoring newsletter, Umlindi (“the watchman” in Zulu), which had over 300 direct subscriber users.
Ms Steyn commended the AgriCloud App development, and asked how it was being advertised.
The Chairperson asked if farmers in the areas that were expecting drought again had seeds of the drought-resistant maize.
Dr Moephuli said that the AgriCloud App rollout had just begun, and was primarily with the funders. Selected extension offices from a number of provinces were also involved in this. The rollout would be conducted in a number of phases, which would include the media. The target for the App was to reach about 140 000 farmers throughout southern Africa.
Provinces on planting season readiness
Mr Themba Mthembu, Member of the Executive Council (MEC): KwaZulu-Natal’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), handed the presentation over to Mr Sibusiso Myeza, the Acting Head of the Department (HoD).
Mr Myeza said that he would be giving an update on the state of readiness of the province’s Fetsa Tlala (eradicate hunger) programme. The objectives were to measure readiness against time frames, strengthen collaboration, increase production and the number of hectares planted, and to achieve value for money. The budget allocated for the province had been spread through the activities as planned by the Annual Performance Plan (APP). The APP indicated that 11 310 hectares were to be planted for food production for the 2018/19 financial year, which had been divided amongst the four quarters aligned to the seasons. 3 512 hectares were to be planted in the fourth quarter. This was further broken down per district, based on the requirements/demands. He went through the specific district allocation per quarters.
The commodities to be planted were cabbage, onions, carrots, dry beans, maize, butternut, potatoes, tomatoes and spinach. The province made use of a multi-planting system based on seasonal weather and the crop’s needs.
Mr Myeza explained which areas were considered warmer or colder, and how this determined planting seasons versus harvest seasons. He described the agricultural potential per ecological regions in the province, and areas where dry land maize and soya beans could be planted. The geographic nature of the province influenced decisions on what was planted where, so that investments were not wasted and the highest crop yield per hectare possible was ensured.
He described the maize, bean and vegetable value chains and listed the respective districts which produced the greatest yields for each commodity. The value chains showed that once the produce was harvested, there were several directions that each could go -- for example, maize once harvested could be sold as grain, or be stored in silos to become animal feed or milled for human consumption.
The summary regarding the state of readiness showed that the processes had been under way since 3 September. The presentation had indicated the overall readiness rating was at 60%, but this was no longer an accurate figure as the bids for seeds and fertilisers had been finalised and were going for gazetting on the following Friday. The readiness rating would now be between 70%-75%. The remainder would follow as supplies were received.
The number of beneficiaries targeted had been set at 10 933. 359 tonnes of seeds and 1 759 tonnes of fertiliser had been ordered. The target for the first quarter was to plant 738 hectares, and what had been actually achieved was that about 1 208 hectares had been planted, despite under-achievement seen in two districts.
Mr Myeza described the total costs incurred - payment for seeds and fertiliser ordered, repair and maintenance of mechanised units (tractors) – broken down by each district.
The planned hectares per commodities (total amounting to 11 310 Ha):
- Fruit (banana) – 5 ha;
- Vegetables – 879 ha;
- Maize – 6147 ha;
- Groundnuts – 160 ha;
- Beans – 3569 ha; and
- Sugarcane – 550 ha.
The number of jobs to be created by the full amount of hectares planted would be around 464, but this was not a set number and could vary. The bids for the various commodities -- seeds, seedlings and fruit trees; fertiliser and fertilisers for supplementing; and mechanisation service providers -- were all in the final stage of procurement and would be gazetted in the following week.
Ms Steyn asked if there was a full and updated database on the farmers receiving assistance from the DARD. She wanted to know how it was decided who received help, as KwaZulu-Natal was one of the provinces in which about 45% of the land was under the Ingonyama Trust or communal land areas -- did the same people receive help again and again until they were able to sustain themselves? Had the DARD worked with any of the commodities, and if so, which of them? What training was given to farmers to ensure that yields were constantly improving, as well as the farmers’ own lives? What was happening with regard to the Makhathini Flats and its irrigation scheme? Was the DARD doing this work itself or had implementing agents been appointed to do it, and if so, who were the agents?
Mr P van Dalen (DA) asked for more details on the under-performance of the two districts.
Ms M Chueu (ANC) commented on the difference in the numbers of beneficiaries according to sex, with there being about 5 000 women and 4 000 men, but said she had a problem with the numbers as they were too small compared to the potential of the sector in the province. She wanted more women to be involved in agriculture. She asked if the ‘apartheid settlement of farmers’ was still being maintained in the farm areas. The numbers seemed to indicate that there was one person/beneficiary settling per hectare. How was the programme bettering the lives of the people, and removing poverty and inequalities? She also asked if the farmers were being given water licences. Were women being taught to drive the tractors themselves, as well as to maintain the machinery?
Inkosi R Cebekhulu (IFP) pointed out that it would have been beneficial to have the areas identified where assistance had been given, so that when oversights were conducted it would be easier to see where developmental progress had been made. He felt that the issue of mechanisation had not been properly handled, and the extension offices in the areas needed to be known. For the sake of food security, could the farmers who did own tractors be contracted by the government to help speed up cultivation of the land, as the government’s machinery was mostly used on commercial land and not communal land?
Mr Madella asked if the Acting HoD could provide finer details in relation to land reform farms so that the Department could track if those farms had been productive. He added that he would always ask about disabled farmers, as these people were always forgotten. He wanted to know if farmers with disabilities had been included in the assistance given and if so, what kind of assistance had been provided for them.
Mr Capa said KwaZulu-Natal’s state of readiness was of concern. There was a difference between the Department’s state of readiness verses the state of readiness between the DARD and its partners in the sector. The information given could be very misleading. It was thought that the DARD was ready, but it was not. Refinement in the information presented was necessary -- with the tractors, for example, it needed to be known how many of them were ready to be used and how many still needed repair or maintenance. The winter period should have been used to sort out all of these kinds of issues. The procurement stage of resources was a lengthy one, and whilst DARD may think it was ready, the suppliers may not be and this caused additional delays in the processes. This needed to refined and corrected. It was important to ensure DARD was ready, as well as the people assisting it.
The Chairperson said that the Members wanted to see that the province was ready for the season, and if there were things still in the procurement stages, then the province was not ready. The land should have been prepared by now and the supplies should have been delivered to the communities as well, as the rains in the province began in October, not December.
The Fetsa Tlala programme had been developed to eradicate poverty, particular within the previous bantustan areas. Statistics SA had revealed that in most of the rural provinces there were still people who were food insecure. The Committee had not received reports on the progress of the Makhathini Flats and the irrigation scheme. The Chairperson requested that those reports be forwarded to the Committee, and wanted to know if the problems with the mechanisation in the province had been sorted out since the oversight visits.
Mr Mthembu said that one of the things DARD was trying to sort out was that obtaining the necessary inputs was like ‘calling Eskom’ -- and this was why there were delays occurring in the planting season. DARD was slowly making progress in mitigating this challenge.
With mechanisation, it was true and important that it was ensured by the Department that the tractors were ready. There was a very similar situation to this last year -- just as DARD thought that it had organised and procured everything, the planting season had been delayed due to those people who had won the bids not in fact having the supplies that they were meant to have delivered.
As the Member had suggested, DARD was creating partnerships with locals who had tractors. Another issue with the tractors was that they needed to be procured in alignment with the type of soil they would be used on, and some tractors that had been procured were not appropriate for the land they were meant to be used on.
The biggest challenges with the Makhathini Flats were the land disputes, revenue collection, and the old infrastructure which needed to be revamped. In KwaZulu-Natal, the landscape was such that it allowed for people to live anywhere and farm anywhere -- it was difficult to control and to reach out because of that. There were no preferences or clear divisions in where people chose to live or chose to farm.
Mr Myeza said that there was a database which held information like addresses and phone numbers, and this could be made available to the Members.
80% of the beneficiaries being assisted were people within communal estates. There were challenges in terms of human settlement, as indicated by the MEC. The biggest target was really subsistence farmers and to some degree the small holders. The commodity partnership that first came to mind was with the South African Sugar Association (SASA), which revolved around sugarcane plantation to provide training and other support. There were also young agricultural graduates who the Department was currently trying to place with various organisations in the farming sector.
DARD did provide mentorship related to agriculture. In fact, there had been a tender closed around August in which service providers were being sought after to provide similar training as well. This time around, no implementing agents were being used.
With regard to the areas where there had been no movement in terms of financial expenditure but there had been work reported, this was as a result of commitments from the previous financial year. He agreed that the number of beneficiaries needed to be improved, and it would be ensured that there would be an increase in respect of women participants. It was believed that DARD was helping to uplift the quality of life for farmers, as the focus was primarily on giving aid to subsistence farmers. The Department also hoped to fight monopolies by procuring services and the essentials from a larger collection of local suppliers.
He was happy to invite the Members for oversight to see the work that was being done in the province. DARD was ready, but it was true that there was the scary risk that service providers were not.
Mr Myeza said that he ran the risk of sounding like he was making excuses, but the Department had had challenges over the years, and most of them could be attributed to Supply Chain Management (SCM), the budget, the commitments that trickled down from the previous years, and the poor engineering capacity within the agriculture sector. These were the weaknesses identified and going forward, the goal was to mitigate them.
The Chairperson reiterated that DARD was not ready, as the procurement stages should have been completed by now.
Mr Xolile Nqatha, MEC: Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR), Eastern Cape, handed the presentation over to the Acting HOD, Mr Leon Coetzee.
Mr Coetzee gave a short overview on the province’s agricultural potential. He said due to a combination of factors -- ecology, geology, morphology, topography and climate -- about 90% of the Eastern Cape’s land surface was suitable for extensive livestock farming, leaving only 10% of land suitable for crop production. The total area of the province was 17.146 million hectares, of which about 16 million ha, or 93.3%, was available for agricultural use. However, as the land was very dry, 14.4 million ha, or 83%, was suitable only for livestock farming, leaving 1.5 million ha, or 9%, suitable for crop production. Currently the commercial/cropping/pastures amounted to 536 000 ha, which included communal and land reform areas. There was a clearly identifiable potential to expand the dry land crop production within the natural boundaries of about 159 000 ha.
The western side of the province was predominantly dry, and thus suitable for livestock farming like cattle, sheep and goats. The eastern and north eastern areas of the provinces were more suitable for cropping because of the high rainfall and better temperature/climate conditions, as well as the soil quality. The coastal areas were all frost-free, which allowed for multi-cropping. The eastern and north eastern areas received more than 500 millimetres of rain; predominately summer rainfall and the soils were suitable for dryland cropping, and included in those soils were the forestry areas that were used for maize and other commodities.
Mr Coetzee reflected on the progress that had been achieved over the past few years. Production had increased from 18 000 ha in the 2014/15 financial year, to 21 000 ha in 2015/16, to 50 000 ha in 2016/17, but had decreased to 34 000 ha in 2017/18. There had also been a significant increase in the households’ food security programme, where households were identified and supported in partnerships with the Department of Social Development (DSD) in respect of household food gardens. It had started with 13 000 households being supported in 2014/15, and currently 21 000 households were supported – affecting 126 000 persons. The decline in 2017/18 was attributed to the significant increases in the cost of production and the general decline in the economy. It had to be remembered that farmers contributed to South Africa’s economy.
For the first time -- and this was something to be very proud of -- black small holder farmers from the Alfred Nzo district had been provided with a platform to export their maize to Vietnam. It was a huge achievement to have farmers exporting directly to the East. Notable were the partnerships, with one specifically focused on macadamia nuts. There had been discussions which had resulted in a blended finance model on communal land in partnership with the Land Bank, and partners in the Amajingqi macadamia nut industry. There was a loan component which mitigated the risks with a government grant. This was something to be reflected on.
A state of the art citrus pack shed in the Ngqushwa municipality had been completed. It was now operational and enabled black citrus farmers to not be dependent on the normal commercial pack houses and pack their own fruits with the associated cost benefits. At this stage, there was direct exporting in partnership with Lona Citrus. The DRDAR was also focusing on pineapple production, quite a unique crop in the province, which was doing well and had a processing factory in which 26% belonged to the workers (in the factory and on the farms). The pineapple primary production was being expanded for black farmers – farmers were planting on contracts given by processing plant.
Planned hectares per commodity (a total of 55 000 hectares):
- Fruit – 297 ha;
- Vegetables – 470 ha;
- Maize – 53 383 ha;
- Fodder – 730 ha; and
- Chicory – 120 ha.
Fodder was being planted with the intention of mitigating the effects of drought and fires, and to set up a fodder bank where feed could be stored for crisis periods. The 55 000 ha being planted in this financial year was estimated to create 3 560 jobs in the process. The APP targets had been signed off and in this quarter 45 000 ha would be planted, and the remaining 10 000 ha in the following quarter.
The total budget was R162 million, of which R67 million was from the voted funds, R23.7 million from the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) and R71.2 million from LETSEMA. There simply was not enough money from the DRDAR to do all of this work, so partnerships were necessary to leverage funding for cropping. Government must create a conducive environment for farmers to farm, provide targeted commodity support to farmers and partner with farmers to reduce the cost of production. Subsistence/household productions were provided with starter pack (seeds, seedlings, fertilizer and garden equipment). For large scale production/smallholder grain producers where farmers had decided to cluster their communal land into production units for commercial purposes, the DRDAR provided a grant of R3 200 per hectare which, depending on the choice of the farmer, could be for production inputs or mechanisation. Many of these farmers were not first time beneficiaries as they had been supported in the previous seasons. They were now required to top up government grants with their own contribution, which would depend on their choice and targeted yields.
Mr Coetzee listed the partnerships that the DRDAR had and the commodities related to them, as well as the monetary investment and targeted areas/hectares. It was also important to note that all the partnerships provided marketing, training and mentorship elements. The Department ensured that the agreements stipulated the uptake and employment of graduates and non-graduates in the sector. The DRDAR wanted local graduates to be permanent staff for viable projects in the long term. The total DRDAR investment amounted to R69 million. There was a constant level of subsidy related to hectare coverage and the targeted crop.
In summary, there were 55 000 ha to be planted and a total of 25 000 beneficiaries. 72 tonnes of seeds, 805 tonnes of fertiliser and 21 245 litres of pesticides had been ordered and delivered. For the programme of cropping, the budget was R164.2 million, and so far the expenditure was at R4 million, and there was R14.6 million committed. This budget excluded money being used with partnerships.
Mr Coetzee said that the Department was satisfied with where it was and what it had planned to do. He acknowledged that there were risks with contractors, nature, mechanisation and so forth, but those could not be further controlled. He briefly spoke to the climate change considerations that had been made.
In conclusion, the Eastern Cape was ready for the 2018/19 cropping season. Contracted production input suppliers would be ready to deliver by the month of September. Mechanisation contractors had been assessed and were being contracted. Farmers were enthusiastic and committed to participate in the cropping programme. Partnership agreements had been signed for implementation of the programme starting in October. The DRDAR was ready in terms of monitoring the implementation, and would work closely with the DAFF and other stakeholders.
Mr Capa asked what would happen to the maize farmers who did not receive any assistance, and how would DRDAR manage the situation where there was a disjuncture between the needs of the farmer and the needs of the service provider.
Ms Chueu again asked if the Department was changing the ‘apartheid settlement’, and asked for the number of women benefiting with from ownership, temporary work and exporting. She wanted to know what the DRDAR’s vision was for the enterprises it was supporting and for how long would they be supported. What was the relationship between the municipalities and rural development? What international markets were there for the other commodities being produced? What was the baseline of poverty in the province, and was the DRDAR contributing to a reduction of inequalities?
Ms Steyn was happy that there had been an increase in the hectares for production. She had heard of a tablet that had been developed which was placed with the maize in storage to prevent insects from eating it, and she wanted to know if the DRDAR was aware of it and if they had perhaps implemented it to test its viability. Her local municipality was Walter Sisulu, and it had been decided that it would be planting rice – which was known to require huge amounts of water – so she asked for clarity on this. As this province really relied on its livestock, she wanted to know what was happening with the Rand Project. She asked if it was true that Magwa and Majola were going to get another money injection into it, and if it was true, how much that would be.
Mr Nqatha said as long as social facilitation had not fully determined rights to land, that would remain a difficulty for development, but the Department was trying to facilitate the resolution of this matter. The commitment to change the structure of ownership and management in the industry was part of the reasoning for what the DRDAR was doing with regard to the commercialisation programme for black farmers, cooperatives and small scale farmers.
Mr Coetzee said the fact that farmers had to contribute towards the inputs was part of the process of commercialisation. The Department could not perpetually support the same farmers with the same amounts and at some point there needed to be an end to it. Hopefully that stage was coming nearer and the figures were talking to that. It should be noted that it was not required that indigent households pay any money, as the government provided the tractors for ploughing as well as the seeds and seedlings. It was from the level of small holder farmers and cluster farmers where fees came into play. The payment of the farmers was also linked to the partners, as the partners had additional funding from various sources.
Regarding the services rendered by mechanisation contractors in areas where the beneficiaries were not happy with the services, the DRDAR was in the process of acquiring the service contractors to place the services in areas where the beneficiaries would be happy with them. This created a relationship between the service provider and the community so that post-government support, the programmes could continue to proceed.
Regarding the special dispensation, there was a very bad legacy of apartheid in the province and that was called the Betterment Scheme – people had been removed and lumped together in small areas and it was difficult to change it/relocate people. The way the Department had approached this challenge was to utilise the land that was available for agriculture and for activities within the current system.
In terms of gender equity targets set, there was a Special Programme that overlooked all the Department’s programmes to ensure there was a good balance in sex, age and persons with disabilities, and it reported on a regular basis.
The DRDAR had good relationships with the district and local municipalities, to such an extent that some of the municipalities directly contributed to the programmes, like providing storage, repairing roads and expanding farm areas. The long term vision was that the province became the food basket of the country.
Mr Coetzee said that the DRDAR was not aware of any new methods for keeping insects away from the stored maize, but a new and better product would be appreciated and promoted amongst the farmers. He was not aware of the rice planting in the province that had been mentioned either. If it were to be requested, researchers would look into the feasibility of it. He asked not to respond on the Rand Project or the money injection of Magwa and Majola, as he had insufficient information on it.
The Chairperson thanked the MEC and HoD, saying that it had been a very good report.
The Chairperson said they would now receive a briefing from the Limpopo province on the state of readiness for 2018/19 planting season.
Mr Basikopo Makamu, MEC: Department of Agriculture: Limpopo said the presentation would be delivered by the Head of the Department.
Ms Jacqueline Maisela, HOD: Department of Agriculture: Limpopo, said in terms of priorities for development, the revitalisation of primary agriculture and agro-processing would contribute to the provincial industrialisation. The revitalisation of agricultural colleges would contribute to the sector’s skills base. Household food production was supported to sustain provincial food security levels. They would also intensify research and technology development to mitigate effects of climate change on production.
In terms of the Revitalising Agriculture and Agro-processing Value-Chain (RAAVC), Limpopo was producing a variety of agricultural commodities. Some had been identified for high growth potential and labour intensity, such as fruit (subtropical fruit & citrus), nuts (macadamia) and vegetables, which had been identified as catalysts for the industries’ cluster value chain development. The province was leading nationally in the production of some of these commodities -- namely, citrus, avocado, mango, and tomato, and as a second producer of macadamia nuts. Despite leading in these commodities, current levels of primary agricultural output were insufficient to provide inputs into a large-scale and thriving food processing sector. There was a need for sustainable support programmes that should contribute towards the sector’s growth, food security and employment creation.
The HOD said the revitalisation objectives included primary production expansion to support upstream and downstream value chain activities; market infrastructure development; and SA GAP and global GAP standards of certification, to improve domestic and export market access; agro-processing support for product beneficiation and addressing post-harvest losses, thus improving income and job opportunities; exploring sound business operating models for community-owned enterprises; and the development of bankable business plans to attract private funding.
Ms Maisela said in terms of partnerships, they had MOUs in place with the following sector partners: Sub-tropical fruit; the Citrus Growers Association; theTomato Growers Association; the Perishable Products Export Certification Board (PPECB); the Agricultural Research Council (ARC); the Land Bank; Progress Milling; mentorship and market agreements at the farmer level with Potato SA; mentorship at the farmer level with established commercial farmers/entities; and collaboration with sector departments.
Regarding readiness in 2018/19 planting season, their plan provided for 13 654 hectares to be under production. It would target communal land under traditional authorities, as well as land reform projects. Mechanisation support services through government tractors would be augmented by private tractor services. Production inputs would include seeds, seedlings and fertilisers for irrigated lands, and seeds and fertilisers for rain-fed lands. A total of 13 654 hectares were targeted, as reflected in the 2018/19 APP and the Ilima-Letsema business plan. Hectares planned were for subsistence, smallholder and commercial farmers, and were broken down per district.
The HOD said the production inputs were as follows:
- Fruit and vegetable commodities: approximately 90 000 banana seedlings for Tshikonelo and Matsika (expansion) projects in Vhembe. Delivery was expected in October. Planting would be up to March 2019.
- There were 2 200 avocado seedlings for the Letaba project in Mopani. Delivery was expected in November. Planting would be up to March 2019.
- There were 626 000 tomato seedlings delivered for the Giyani, Ba-Phalaborwa and Maruleng projects.
- 175 000 chillies seedlings had been delivered for the Letaba, Tzaneen and Giyani projects.
- 80 000 pepper seedlings had been delivered for the Giyani projects, and procurement was under way for other districts.
In the Matsika Irrigation Scheme, there was development of a 90ha micro-jet irrigation system. The first phase of 50ha banana had been planted, with the first harvest this year. For 2018/19, 66 660 banana seedlings had been purchased and delivered to cover the remaining hectares.
In the Tshikonelo Irrigation Scheme, there had been the installation of an irrigation system for 77 hectares. Infrastructure had been completed by the end of 2017/18. 22 220 banana seedlings had been purchased, and would be planted this season.
In fruit and vegetable commodities, there were 450kg butternut seeds for the Nwanedi and Ba-phalaborwa projects. 50 tons of potato seeds for potato development in Capricorn had been ordered, and were awaiting delivery by September. 10 000 tomato seedlings for Capricorn were also awaiting delivery during September.
In the Nkukeng project, a seven hectare towable centre pivot had been installed. The irrigation system had been completed in June. The preparation of land for planting had been completed during August. Potato seeds (37.5 tons) had been procured and delivery was expected by September.
In the Nwanedi, there was a drip irrigation project development for 50 farmers, and the installation of a pump house, which had been completed during May and was operational. 200 kg of okra and 372 kg of butternut seeds had been purchased and delivered.
The HOD said there would be planting of fruit trees as part of the Arbor week commemoration programme which was planned for 11 September in Collins Chabane local municipality. 2 000 fruit trees had been procured for household planting -- two fruit trees per household, targeting 500 households in the municipality, with other trees being planted at schools as part of promoting Junior Care.
Private tractor services were one year contracts, ending in December. Inspections would commence early in September to confirm the status and condition of the tractors. The procurement process for new contracts would commence in September.
After the harvest, fresh produce would be marketed through local supermarkets and retail stores; the Johannesburg and Tshwane fresh produce markets; the export market, for citrus and avocado; farm gates for hawkers; and processors and millers for grains and dry beans. 15 projects would be audited on market standards compliance – GAP standards -- as part of market readiness support.
Ms Maesela referred to progress with the implementation of plans to address issues raised during the last Portfolio Committee’s oversight visit. At the Phetwane aquaculture project, fish production was in progress. On the crop production side, the project had received co-funding of R1.14m from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and had purchased a tractor, a boom-sprayer, disc harrow, planter and plough; the Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (LDARD) had supplied seeds and fertilisers; and two beneficiaries had participated in the aquaculture management programme in China in June 2017.
Other aquaculture production support included product development and marketing. Close to 67 616 fingerlings had been distributed to aquaculture projects in Sekhukhune and Vhembe. Hereford harvesting had started this past winter. Construction of a fish processing facility at Tompi Seleka was in progress, and delivery of the processing equipment was expected in the third quarter. The facility aimed to improve the post-harvest handling in order to meet the market requirements, as well as food safety standards.
Small farmers were facing electricity challenges because of huge Eskom bills, so Eskom had been engaged to try find the root cause for the higher than expected bills. According to Eskom, farmers mostly opted for bigger transformers without actually understanding their energy needs. The Department, in collaboration with Eskom, had started a programme to raise awareness of farmers’ usage. This included Eskom being given a slot at every departmental session or event that involved the farmers. Workshops were also held with officials who in turn were expected to advise the farmers. The key message was how farmers should apply for electricity according to their needs and how to schedule their irrigation accordingly, in line with Eskom’s scheduled hours for lower consumption rates. A list of affected farmers had been submitted to Eskom’s regional office so the matter could be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Ms Maesela referred to the reasons for a reduction in Fetsa Tlala hectares, saying the programme in Limpopo had been focused largely on dry land production, targeting communal land under traditional authorities. The province had not seen a significant improvement from the dry spell of 2014/15 and thr subsequent severe drought of 2015/16, compounded by extreme heat waves.
With regard to irrigated production, the Limpopo farming community was responsible for 72% of allocated water, with different assurances of supply in different Catchment Management Areas. Due to the drought conditions, the dam levels within the Province were very low. As a result, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) had issued a Government Gazette on 16 September 2016 restricting water usage. Based on these restrictions and the drought experienced in the past ploughing seasons, the Department had had to review the target for Fetsa Tlala hectares to a more reasonable and realistic target. The support was redirected towards relief for livestock farmers in livestock feed and exploration for additional water sources. For the current year, the Department planned to plough 13 654 hectares, as compared to the planned 13 006 hectares for 2017/18.
The challenge at the Tompi Seleka oil refinery project to process sunflowers into edible oil had been to get the correct designs for the edible oil equipment. The specifications had now been completed and the terms of reference (TORs) approved for the advertisement of a tender. The tender would be advertised this month.
An operator for the Lebowakgomo poultry abattoir had been appointed in June 2018, after three failed attempts. Discussions were progressing well with the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (LEDA) on the operating model that would see the poultry producers and abattoir workers acquiring shares in the business. The operation was scheduled to commence in December 2018.
Ms Steyn asked why there was no budget for subsistence farmers for vegetables, because she thought lot of the money should be spent on produce like vegetables. What was meant by “vulnerability assessment,” and how was it decided who received the assistance after the assessment. How were the costs of mechanisation support services determined? Was there a database of all the farmers in Limpopo?
Mr L Ntshayisa (AIC) asked when the operator had been appointed, since there was lack of capacity. When had the Department appointed women tractor drivers?
Mr Capa said the report from Limpopo was very encouraging and comments were necessary, rather than questions. For instance, somewhere in the report it had been stated that there were a larger number of hectares and a smaller number of beneficiaries -- how was this calculated? He would like to encourage farmers to service their tractors and equipment on time, because they should always know the next harvest season was coming and it always affected their performance. A lot had been said about potatoes, but nothing about the equipment which was usually kept by commercial farmers, potato planters and potato washers. He was concerned about tractor drivers who worked many hours, and suggested the Department should check on that.
Mr Madella said he appreciated the report acknowledging that when one was disabled, one should not have to stay at home, and should be given an opportunity to do something and make success out of life. In the month of March, farmers with disabilities had been given a chance, which was very good. It was important that tractors should be adapted and made to support farmers with disabilities so that it was easier for them to drive them. Sector Education and Training Authorities should start a project of repairing tractors and have disabled people involved.
Inkosi R Cebekhulu (IFP) said the Deputy Minister was aware that there was a massive contract for exporting avocados in Limpopo, and asked for clarity on how this was being carried out.
The Chairperson referred to commodities in the Tzaneen and Levubu areas of Limpopo, where every house had a mango tree, and asked what the provincial department was doing to revitalise the economic potential of that region. Was there any economic intervention or plan that the Department had to uplift the economic potential of those households?
What was the Department’s plan with regard to the partnership project between the community and farmers, because it seemed the community were just workers and only got salaries while the farmers were benefiting from the community.
The Committee had been told at the last meeting that the Department was still building a processing plant for the community aquaculture project. How far was it from being finalised?
The Chairperson asked for further information about the farmers who were owing ESKOM millions.
Mr Makamu said the reduction in the number of hectares ploughed had been indicated in the presentation, and there was one development of a specific avocado product which had been directly exported outside the country, which was an area the Department was observing.-- they want to expand avocado growing around the Tzaneen area by almost 1 000 hectares. There were also a number of commodities like nuts and mangoes which they should be able to expand on, and they were aware of that. However, they would not be able to achieve their plans because their resources were limited to short term approaches, and this required a long term approach in view of the number of hectares they wanted to increase.
The MEC referred to the Department’s efforts to encourage disabled people to be in the farming sector, and pointed out that Limpopo had also been awarded the top performing female at the recent National Agricultural Awards. Apart from that, on Friday they would be celebrating “Casual Day” with disability cooperatives, and they would give them the extensions in community farming so that they continued farming. They recognised and wanted the Department to encourage more disabled people to be part of farming in the community.
In the Phalaborwa area, they were completing a processing factory for mangoes. The capacity of this factory would be so big that there would be a shortage of supply from the Vhembe area, so they were targeting to club together the supply of mangoes from the production plant with the Maponi area. The project had been delayed, and but agreements had reached with both the contractor and all the stakeholders, and by 15 October, he would go back and see a complete project.
There was a cooperative in that area with seven beneficiaries, all of whom were older than 50. They had started that cooperative a long time ago. The Department had discussed with them how they should renew that cooperative, because they had seen how it could collapse if it was not renewed by inviting young people to be part of the work the cooperative was doing. This was a project which he was monitoring carefully so as to support them and ensure mango production took place in that area.
Regarding why they were servicing government tractors only now, he acknowledged that there had been some delays. The Landini branch technician had explained that there had had to be an assessment of the problems before they issued a quotation. However, the majority of the problems had been attended to and by the end of September, they would have concluded the process.
The HOD said in terms of how they determined the costs of mechanisation support services, they advertised an open tender basis and had a price threshold that they would not go beyond. Based on various factors, they had worked out the costs.
There was a database of the farmers. The starting point was that they provided support year in year out, and therefore they had to know who were they supporting, and the database indicated the nature of the production, the level of production and the kind of support that would be required. This assisted them in packaging the support.
Regarding female tractor drivers, the Department had already announced and advertised these opportunities, but it depended on the interest of females to apply for them. In the private sector there were women tractor drivers, and it was only in government tractor services that numbers were limited, and that boiled down to the matter of interest. However, as they interacted with other stakeholders in the industry, they should be able to create space for female tractor drivers to become interested.
Dr Janki Masiteng, Managing Director: Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). Free State said the Free State province is divided into five districts and one of tem is a metro. In 2016, the total Free State population was 2.86 million, representing 5.1% of the national population. 58.3% were male and 41.7% female. Free State is the second smallest province by population in the country -- Northern Cape is smallest. Households increased from 823 316 in 2011, to 946 639 in 2016. The average household size has decreased from 3.3m (2011) to 3.0m (2016). Mangaung Metro (255 938) and Thabo Mofutsanyana (246 171) have the highest number of households. The poverty head count remains at 5.5%. 220 863 households had run out of money in the last 12 months, and 15.7% of households had missed a meal over the same period.
Dr Masiteng said agriculture dominated the Free State landscape as follows:
- Area - 129 480 square miles, or 12.9458 million ha;
- The arable land is approximately 3.2 million ha, whilst natural veld and grazing cover approximately 8.7 m ha;
- The province, with more than 30,000 farms, produces over 70% of the country's grain. Field crops yield almost two-thirds of the gross agricultural income of the province.
- Free State Province is situated in the centre of the country, sharing borders with seven other provinces and internationally with Lesotho (N8 Corridor Competitive, Trade and Investment Advantage); thus referred to as the “Heart of the Country”; it is also referred to as the “Bread-Basket of the Country”.
- The sector’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) over the past year has been hovering between just under 2.4% and just over 3%.
- Agro-ecologically, it is generally on average referred to as a flat plain province with slopes of less than 5 percent.
Dr Masiteng said when looking at the water management area, the Free State province is encircled by three of the province’s main rivers -- the Orange, Vaal and Caledon Rivers. Water from the Vaal River is mainly supplied for commercial and domestic use.
The agricultural sector is the main consumer of water from the Orange and Caledon Rivers. The Free State has 12 state dams and other rivers making the province the most water-rich province in South Africa. Two main water catchment areas -- the Vaal and the Orange -- are within the Free State.
Dr Masiteng said the objective of this presentation was to measure readiness against time frames; to strengthen collaboration; to increase production and number of hectares planted; and to achieve value for money.
The Department had entered into partnerships with different stakeholders, which include Grain SA-Farmer Training, VKB-Support Mechanisation-Mentorship-Production Loans (20 Farmers), Potato SA -- to expand potato production (5 farmers), collaboration with ARC - Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), Oos Vrystaat Koöperasie (OVK) farmer mentorship and production loans, and organised agriculture -- African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) and Free State Agriculture.
Dr Masiteng referred to Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) in the Free State, which includes Infield Rain Water Harvesting (IRWH) technique for small plots (homestead gardens) and larger areas. Poverty, food insecurity and unemployment is generic in the province. Subsistence farmers operate in semi-arid regions were there is low and erratic rainfall, and crop yields are low, and where there is a high risk of crop failures using conventional production techniques.
He gave details of the different planting dates in terms of crops and land preparation, optimal planting dates and cut off planting dates; the planned hectares per commodity; the signed Annual Performance Plan Fetsa Tlala targets 2018/19; and the state of readiness of production inputs in terms of commodity, procurement process status, order status and the due date. (See presentation)
Support was provided to farmers in mechanisation tractor packages, where allocations were given to the different districts based on criteria linked to arable land on land reform farms, commonages, Ilima/Letsema and communal areas. The 72 tractors allocated were to Xhariep (seven), Mangaung Metro (14), Lejweleputswa (19), Thabo Mafutsanyane (24) and Fezile Dabi (eight).
Of the 72 tractors, 57 are operational. All co-operatives have formal business plans. There are bakkies for three co-operatives, one new tractor, six and 10-ton trailers. Accounting packages (Quickbooks) have been installed in all co-operatives’ administrators’ computers, and training provided. Mentorship relationships have been created between the beneficiaries and established farming co-operatives in their respective regions. Challenges include equipment, replacement, and the ratio of tractors to farmers, group dynamics, and some cooperatives not fully functional.
Dr Masiteng said the province is in the process of developing a new strategy on mechanisation. It will be based on sub-districts, depending on potential inherent in the local areas and their agricultural activities. The total number of jobs created in this programme is 421.
Inkosi Cebekhulu asked whether the tractors of the provincial department were still assisting the emerging farmers and small holder farmers. What had happened to the tractors, because there was one farmer who had lot of cattle, and the one tractor he had was not utilised. Were the papers of the tractors shared with other farmers, or were they kept by individual farmers? With regard to Agri-villages, were the people there enjoying the benefits of the land and running crop farming, or were they just concentrated on livestock farming?
Ms G Tolashe (ANC) referred to the irrigation scheme, and said the project plan of the Department was not very clear in terms of dates. There was no indication on which date the project would be completed. There were 50 families participating on that scheme, but the money that had been spent on the construction of the tar road was not very clear. There were two villages that they passed, and people of those villages had sheep, and these sheep needed to be shorn, so there was some spin off in this regard. The government could contribute and help with the breeding of sheep and the establishment of homesteads in these two villages.
Mr Ntshayisa asked what the problem was with regard to the 72 tractors that had been allocated to 49 projects in the Free State province, because they had been told that only 57 were working. Why was there no clarification on the number of males and females in terms of beneficiaries? The report had indicated that no costs had been incurred, even though they had ordered fertilisers and staff costs were involved. If one placed an order, obviously costs would be incurred.
Ms Steyn said she was disappointed with the report. The Committee had raised questions following their visit to the Free State, and none of them was answered in this report. It had to be said in front of the Deputy Minister, the DG and the MEC, that there was full scale looting happening in the Free State, and it was ongoing. One of the reasons was that the district managers did not know what was going on. When they had visited Woodridge Farm, the community had been very angry, as they were made to sign agreements before delivery took place, and if they did not sign, the delivery would not take place. They just had to accept whatever was being given to them.
She proposed that the Committee get a full report of what they had asked for, because they had been told things that were not true. They had been told the report from the MEC would be given to the legislature on all the investigations that had taken place at Vrede. They had been told they would get the report on all the other fishing projects that had happened there.
Mr Madella asked why there were no jobs dedicated to people with disabilities in this report, as this left an impression that there were no disabled people in the Free State, which could not be true. However, it was encouraging to see that in the Thaba Nchu irrigation scheme, there were 16 disabled people who were working on it.
Mr Capa said he was worried that in terms of its state of readiness, the Free State was only 65% ready at the moment, because it was now September, which meant that double work should be done for the province to be ready for the planting season. The Department had lost an opportunity of linking the visit of the Committee to the province with the state of readiness, because it would have assisted the Department to link the two.
Regarding the dairy farms, he asked how the Department would change the situation around with the same implementing agent in place, because the agent said the cows were old and could not produce milk, which was a lie. The truth was that the older the cow, the more milk it produces and the more one milks, the more milk one produces. This meant that the Department was being misinformed by the implementing agent. What it was going to do to remedy this situation?
The Chairperson asked if the department had bought tractors for the cooperatives. The 65% readiness meant that the Free State province was not ready. The Committee acknowledged the fact that the MEC was fairly new, but he had to run and handle some of these challenges.
She said the only good thing that had come out of this presentation, and which other provinces should learn from, was the harvesting of water throughout the season. As government, they had to ensure the project met the intended objectives, and that the project would benefit the community in that area. Therefore, when the MEC and his delegation meet with the DAFF, the model should be identified properly and they should check on how they were going to deliver the project’s intended objectives.
Regarding the fishery project, the Committee recognised the intervention of the MEC with regard to the implementing agent, he would deal with the issues it had raised. It was important to strive to achieve value for money in all the projects they were implementing.
The relationship with traditional leaders was very important, because some of them were complaining about not participating in some of the projects. Traditional leaders should be taken on board and participate in these projects, because they were also a part and leaders of the community.
The Chairperson said a full report should be submitted to the Committee as already proposed by Ms Steyn, as well as responses to questions that had been raised by Members before the report was taken to Parliament for discussion.
Mr Lucky Monareng, Acting Head of Department (HOD): DARD, Mpumalanga, said that in preparation for the planting season, the Department had met with all the farmers in the province in the four districts to tell them that the planting season is approaching and all of them must be ready. The Department can not be ready alone -- the people they are servicing must also be ready. Therefore, they had a very interesting interactive discussion with farmers and were quite pleased with those discussions.
One of the highlights of the programme was the fact that the Department was planting for Amakhosi, which had been allocated 1 500ha in all four districts in Mpumalanga. The commodities the Department will focus on in each of those districts were described.
There was emphasis on job creation, with another innovative programme focusing on young farmers, both male and female, as well as people with disabilities. They were also training young and female tractor mechanics to fix tractors of the department. They had piloted this programme in the previous financial year by training seven young mechanics, and five young officials who were included in the Department, which showed a huge success. 889 males and 1 646 females were benefiting from the programme. Of the youths, 409 were males and 872 females. There were 16 males and 23 females with disabilities, so it could be seen that the programme was more biased towards females.
Mr Monareng said they had very good relationships with most of their partners, which included Programme South Africa, which had assisted in training young farmers. All the other organisations they had partnered with were working very well for all the farmers in Mpumalanga.
In terms of the signed 2018/19 Fetsa Tlala target, apart from the 1 500ha planting for Amakhosi, there was also the categorisation of 2 000ha for small holder farmers and 1 000ha for commercial farmers. Only a R3m budget is available for this programme. The Department had started discussions with National Treasury, and the MEC was pushing to get additional budget so that they could increase their target.
Regarding the state of readiness, the province was 70% ready. The reason is because they have a plan already for the distribution of production inputs, which would be delivered by 15 September 2018. The plan had been communicated to the service providers, their officials on the ground and their partners, such development committees in municipalities.
The Chairperson asked why there had been a sudden decline in the number of hectares that were allocated to beneficiaries in small holder farmers.
Ms Steyn asked for clarity with regard to the 15 tractors that were working versus the 37 that were not working. How could a province like Mpumalanga to take responsibility for mechanisation, which was massively expensive, and let them go into such a state of disrepair. She was not happy with the report when it said they were minor repairs, but tractors were standing and abandoned all over the province, which was terrible. She asked for clarity with regard to the minor repairs that were needed. What was going on at Maripyane Agricultural College, which they had been told was going to be utilized this year -- was it running or not?
Mr Capa said it was important to note that there was more production of beans than maize in Mpumalanga, which was good, but the state of readiness was not adequate.
Mr S Maseko, Acting HOD: DARD Mpumalanga said the reason for the decline in the number of hectares was due to the significant reduction in their budget. In the 2012/13 financial year, their target for hectares had been up to 79 000 hectares, but it had since declined because of the reduced funds they had received from DAFF.
On the matter of 15 tractors that were working versus the 37 that were not working, the Department had indicated in its report that at Bohlabela district municipality, tractors were in full working condition, and there were 37 of them. The reason they could not attend to them earlier was because they were busy with a new intake of youths, and eight of them they were being trained as tractor mechanics. It was interesting to note that of the previous 13 youths that had been trained, five had become departmental officials, and six of them were women who were doing exceptionally well at repairing tractors. The minor repairs they were talking about were just basic services, so they were optimistic that they would finish them within the period before the planting season. Currently, the total number of tractors was therefore 52.
The Maripyane Agricultural College had been transformed and converted into a farmers’ centre, which was fully functional. They took farmers there for training, and from time to time did assessments after the training, so the college was being used.
There were more soya beans due to farmers’ preference because the soya beans tended to yield more profit than maize, and also the fact that in the Mohlapelo and eHlanzeni areas it stayed warmer until very late April. This meant they could still plant maize in December and January and still get good results.
The Chairperson said they should acknowledge the good things which had come out of this presentation, and one of them had been the training of youths as tractor mechanics.
The Chairperson said the presentation she was holding was different from the one that had been presented by the Department to the Committee, and she believed that Members of the Committee also had the same version as she had.
Mr Nhlakanipho Nkontwana, HOD: DARD, Gauteng apologised, saying that the Committee had been mistakenly given an older version of the presentation, and he had one copy of the new version.
The Chairperson asked Members of the Committee whether to continue and engage with the report.
The Committee agreed that it would not engage with the report because Members had to be provided with the latest version of the presentation. The Department had to come back with the correct version so that Members could engage with it at their next meeting.
Ms Joyene Isaacs, HOD: DAFF: WC said because of time constraints she would not go through the whole presentation, but it was there before the Committee. The purpose of the presentation was to update the Committee on the Fetsa Tlala state of readiness for 2018/19 planting season
The main objectives were to measure readiness against time frames; to strengthen collaboration; to increase production and the number of hectares planted; and to achieve value for money
The presentation described the Western Cape agricultural potential, and explained their business model for black farmer support, which stated it was “an institutional arrangement that draws in multiple spheres of government and the private sector, each understanding their unique roles, working from the same plan, towards achieving the same outcomes,”
She referred to the DAFF’s partnerships, which included mentorship support to black farmers at no cost to the Department; facilitating access to markets; the provision of commodity specific extension; access to research and technology; and training and capacity building support.
The presentation gave a breakdown of signed annual performance plan (APP) Fetsa Tlala targets, a summary of the state of readiness per district as at July, the planned hectares per commodities in 2018/19, and a breakdown of costs incurred per district
Mr Madella asked whether the Karoo district had been incorporated into Eden in the Northern Cape.
The presenter had indicated the inclusion of persons with disabilities, which was very good. However, when one looked at the statistical columns ,nothing was indicated about how disabled people were benefiting, which was something that needed to be stated clearly in future.
Mr Capa asked what happened to the crops that still needed to be produced in summer, because there were still months that were ahead before summer.
The Chairperson asked how many small holder farmers there were in the Western Cape.
Ms Isaacs said the numbers had been put in after the presentation had been printed, and there were about seven people with disabilities which the Department had supported with this grant.
Currently, the Karoo did not have water and therefore they could not plant. The activity was in those areas where the farmers had dams and were not necessarily dependent on the Department of Water and Sanitation’s irrigation system.
Most of the crops they had invested in, especially the grains, were targets for quarter 2 and quarter 3. Also, their fruit got planted by August at the latest -- or probably the best time was July -- so actually most of their planting had been completed, which was because they did not have rain in summer.
The Department had done an assessment of how many small holder farmers there were, and the latest number was 9 565 small holder farmers.
The Chairperson thanked the Western Cape for the presentation and responses. She thanked the Deputy Minister, the MECs, the DG and all the officials from the different provinces who had appeared and presented to the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.