A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.
AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
14 August 2007
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE QUARTERLY PROGRESS REPORT
Chairperson: Ms D Hlengethwa (ANC)
Documents handed out:
1ST Quarter Report
Audio recording of meeting
The Committee convened to hear a quarterly progress report from the Department of Agriculture’s Director General and several of his officers. This represented the first of such reports to the Committee as directives were only just implemented to require them. As the first such report, no specific guidelines were set on its format, so the DG ran through the general list of five umbrella programmes and discussed how many goals of each had been accomplished as well as how many were outstanding. Overall, progress was disappointing with less than 50% of deliverables for this quarter having been achieved. After the report, Committee members asked questions about food security, bio-fuels, international trade, land reform projects, and the Land Bank. Directives were also given about the format of future reports.
The Chair convened the meeting by conveyed apologies from four absent members and then introduced Mr Masiphula Mbongwa, Director General of the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs (DOA). There was a brief discussion regarding the previous week’s meeting in which Land Bank officials were dismissed after having been chastised for not supplying the Committee with relevant documents one week prior to the meeting. The Chair noted that despite having not received documentation from the DOA, the meeting would continue as scheduled because this represented the Department’s first attempt at a quarterly report to the Committee. The Committee agreed to make an exception in this instance, but stood firm on its requirement that documents be submitted a week prior to any Committee meeting.
With no specific format guidelines in place, the DG noted the difficulties involved in assembling the relevant information – particularly given that the Parliamentary Committee and the DOA are on different quarterly schedules. He then provided a general overview of the Department’s five umbrella programmes: Administration, Strategic Output, Bio-Security & Disaster Management, Production & Resource Management, and Sector Services & Support Partnerships.
Without discussing any specific programme initiatives, the DG pointed out how many deliverables had been achieved in each of the five branches. Overall twenty-five out of fifty-three goals for the first quarter were completed, a percentage of less than 50%, which the DG noted with considerable disappointment. The DG said that more information was needed on the status of the remaining twenty-eight initiatives, whether they were in progress or not and whether or not they could be completed. He noted that some of these objectives ran concurrently for the first and second quarter.
The Chair opened the meeting up for questions and suggested that in the future the DOA should not report processes as goals, but should outline the tangible results of its initiatives.
Mr S Abraham (ANC) pointed to Food Security as it related to bio-fuels, noting that food prices were currently making one decent meal per day a challenge for many impoverished South Africans. Given this, he asked, was it advisable to convert food stores into bio-fuels?
In regard to rising food prices for consumers, the DG noted that, from a production side, high prices were beneficial to SA farmers. The government believed that high production prices would lead to greater supply and then greater availability, which would reduce prices for consumers. The DOA did not recommend government intervention in this area. Bio-fuels and their inexhaustible demand represented a new global phenomenon for those in the agricultural sector to deal with, and to use America as an example, they had great potential to spark economic growth.
The DG further responded to bio-fuels questions noting three specific tasks, two of which had been accomplished. DOA had determined suitable land for producing feedstock and had decided which crops would be involved. Feedstock production would take place in the North West, Free State, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape. Crops would include maize, sugarcane, soy, sunflowers, and canola. The Department’s general position was that SA would take all crops, both food and non-food, but assented that most would be food crops. There was not time as a government to develop non-food crops in SA and it was not advisable to introduce alien plants into the environment. Therefore, for bio-fuel production, SA would work with what it already had in place.
Mr Abraham asked if the DOA was engaged at an international level in trade discussions and policy. Was there a permanent SA representative at the WTO?
Regarding international trade, the DG responded that SA was deeply involved in all facets of international discussions through its permanent representative in Geneva. The government was very comfortable with her work dealing with the WTO. On these issues, the DOA also worked with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The SA delegation was lead by the Minister of Agriculture and was supported by her Directors General as well as the Minister of Trade and Industry.
Mr Abraham asked what the DOA was doing about the imbalances regarding import costs versus production costs of dairy products. With imports costs less than production costs, local SA farmers were being priced out of the business.
As trade policy related specifically to SA dairy farmers, the DG agreed with Committee member’s problem assessments. He noted how SA had lost over 50% of its milk producing dairy farmers in the last ten years, with that number having roughly fallen from seven to three thousand. There clearly needed to be a plan of action in place to find an appropriate balance of imports, tariffs, and financial support to prevent a situation where demand was outstripping production.
Mr Abraham asked about land reform policy – specifically the disposal of unencumbered state land. What factors were taken into account? Was it first-come-first-served? Did they identify beneficiaries who had farming knowledge and needed the help? So far, who had received land and why?
Mr A Nel (DA) noted that Land Reform Project beneficiaries had received R2 million as well as a R1.8 million loan from the Land Bank, but suggested the high interest rates and short term length would virtually guarantee project failure. Regarding the Micro-Agricultural Finance Institutions of South Africa (MAFISA), he asked how much money was available to soften these loan bases. How could we improve coordination of government support programmes?
The Chair asked how much money was in the MAFISA purse?
The DG responded that at present R400 000 was available to farmers and suggested that another briefing should be held regarding the subdivision of land because the pertinent information was not yet available. In the future, the DOA would provide information on the application format and qualifications required before land disposals were meted out. The Minister of Public Works was also involved in this process and in many cases had the final say in approving disposals to beneficiaries who had been approved by the screening process. There were social aspects at work here as well – if a farmer or farm worker had been on the land previously, they were generally given preference.
Mr J Bici (UDP) pointed to problems with the Comprehensive Agriculture Support Package (CASP). What if a farmer in need of aid applied for a grant to cover a number of issues, but only received support for one of them? His problems were not solved, but he was still made ineligible for future CASP support for five years. How did this relate to the MAFISA pilot programme?
Responding to MAFISA questions, the DG pointed out that MAFISA was designed as a one-year pilot programme supplying aid to farmers in Limpopo, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal. A report was compiled after the completion of the project in June and was now available.
In reference to CASP, the DG cleared some confusion by stating CASP only represented a small percentage of support given to provincial farmers (14%), but had for many become the brand name for the entire issue. The Department was looking to overhaul CASP to more accurately represent six pillars of technological advisory which include: Information, Training, Financing (which covers MAFISA), Infrastructure Services, and Marketing/Business Development. To this point, 80% of spending had been directed towards infrastructure, so CASP needed to be repackaged to focus on all six pillars. The goal was a much more comprehensive and interactive system as well as improved departmental coordination. Hopefully PIMSA would contribute to this.
Mr P Swart, the DOA Chief Programmes Officer, spoke briefly about the new Project Information Management System for Agriculture (PIMSA) as a tool to improve project management capacity by boosting the knowledge and reporting process through an online database. PIMSA would be online and interactive and was designed to improve accountability on individual projects and programmes.
Dr A Van Niekerk (DA) asked what policy was in place to deal with current drought problems. How were different sectors accommodated (e.g. agricultural and commercial)? Regarding Food Security, he noted that only a very small percentage of cargo containers were screened on entry and asked about policy measures to prevent and control the outbreak of animal disease in the provinces. Regarding the subdivision of land, he lamented that issues currently took far too long to be resolved. On this, he pointed to the Land Bank and asked about the tremendous consequences of giving control of DOA issues to the Land Bank, which, he suggested, lacked expertise to handle them.
Responding to questions about drought, the DG assured members that a disaster management plan was in place. Meetings had been recently held with the Minister and farming leaders, but given jitters from the Treasury on financing issues, the situation needs to be approached from a new angle.
Of the Land Bank, the DG pointed out that SA agriculture needed a great deal of financial support. The challenge was to identify areas for support without throwing money away. On this issue, the DOA was hearing good things from the Minister of Finance. Clearly there could be stronger measures in place, but the climate on the finance side seemed positive.
The DG noted how Inspection Services gave the government big worries. Swine Fever came to SA from the swill off of cargo ships. Current policy allowed for this swill to be offloaded and buried in landfills, but the risks seemed too high and a new policy should be implemented that forbade landing of swill altogether. Constant EU pressure on these issues (avian bird flu, swine fever, foot & mouth disease) suggested SA should adopt international standards on disease management.
Ms C Nkuna (ANC) asked for clarification regarding Animal & Agricultural Production programmes and suggested that in future reports, the DG should focus on tangible issues by pointing out specific programmes and their real-time progress and challenges as opposed to just stating whether they were completed or not.
Mr Van Niekerk highlighted the poor policy of hiring costly consultants to write business policy instead of government economists who might be held accountable for their work in ways consultants could not be.
Mr D Dlali (ANC) asked for clarification on the breakdown of money given and money spent by province. He asked for elaboration on monthly Food Security bulletins and wondered if “food control” referred to price control or quality control. Regarding support programmes for black farmers, he asked if statistics were available on the number of black farmers and farm workers. He asked what land had been identified for bio-fuel production. When would there be a Committee briefing on a bio-fuel strategic plan?
The DG responded that info on expenditures by province was available as well as a list of farmers currently receiving support. Statistics showed that the number of farm workers had fallen from around one million to 800 000 while the number of permanent farmers had fallen in comparison to the number of seasonal farmers, which had risen. There were roughly three million black farmers in SA, the vast majority of which were subsistence farmers. Of that three million, 240 000 were categorised as emerging farmers while 45 000 were commercial farmers.
The DG responded to Mr Dlali’s question on food control stating that the phrase referred to the safety of food on shelves and their sell-by dates. The DOA handled this issue with the Health Department and a meeting was scheduled for the end of the year.
Mr Dlali asked about the role of extension officers.
The DG responded that extension issues were more appropriately the problem of local government. When profiled against international norms, SA should have 7 000 extension officers, but only had 2 210 in place. Of those 2 210 officers, as many as 1 700 were unqualified. Further, 60% of these officials were in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape, but again, most were unqualified. There was a drastic need for project management training, but there was very little provincial oversight on the issue and the plan needed funding. The Department had a goal for 2010 of adding 1000 additional officers a year on a part-time basis to improve training. On this issue, the Department sought input from stakeholders. How could the Department make the extension officers more effective and accountable to the farmers they oversee? The Department had requested a summit on this issue and were awaiting a date from the Minister.
The Chair adjourned the meeting thanking Committee members and DOA representatives for a fruitful discussion.