ATC170621: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on an Oversight Visit to Knysna, Western Cape Province, 21 June 2017

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on an Oversight Visit to Knysna, Western Cape Province, 21 June 2017
 

1.         INTRODUCTION

 

As per Parliament’s constitutional mandate and in response to the fire-caused disaster that hit the Garden Route area of the Western Cape Province, the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (hereinafter referred to as the Committee) undertook an oversight visit to Knysna in the Western Cape Province on 21 June 2017.

 

  1. Delegation

 

The delegation of the Portfolio Committee composed of Ms MR Semenya, ANC (Chairperson and leader of the delegation); Mr N Capa, ANC; Mrs TMA Tongwane, ANC; Mrs A Steyn, DA; Mr M Paulsen, EFF; Mr SC Mncwabe, NFP and Mr LM Ntshayisa, AIC. The Committee was supported by Ms A Kakaza, Committee Secretary; Ms N Mgxashe, Content Advisor and Ms N Qwabe, Committee Researcher (Agriculture).

 

1.2   In attendance

 

The following were in attendance: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF): Dr M Rampedi, Mr RM Ramasodi, Ms E Mtshiza,  Ms E Moshesha, Ms A Nhlapo, Mr P Gerber, J Mofuvatedi, D Makate, F Goliath, O Tshitannye. Department of Rural Development and Land Reform: Juanita Fortuin and Lourette Brown. Western Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development: Evon Mayekiso, HS Gerber, André Roux, M Facitenjwa, Cyril Ndou. Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development: Gwen Sgwabe. Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs: Dr M Khangale. Eden District Municipality: Mr W Jacobs. MTO Group: Mr I Kanyemba.

 

 

 

2.         OBJECTIVES OF THE OVERSIGHT

 

The objectives of the visit were to:

  • assess the impact on farmers and farm workers, of the fires that broke out in the Garden Route area of the Western Cape;
  • assess the extent of damage to farms and agricultural infrastructure; and
  • determine how Government is responding to the disaster.

 

3.         COMMITTEE OVERSIGHT FINDINGS

 

3.1 Briefing by the Government Departments

 

3.1.1 National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)

 

The Fire Advisor from DAFF, Mr Paul Gerber, reported that approximately 14 284 hectares (ha) of land was affected by the fire in the Knysna area and 10 000 ha in the Plettenberg Bay area; 7 lives were lost; two of which were firefighters; 483 houses burnt down and 200 informal dwellers were destroyed. He reported that on 19 June 2017, a preliminary meeting was held to discuss the process that will be undertaken for the assessment of fire damage to agricultural land. To assist farmers, the discussions resolved on the procurement of animal feed. Approximately 30 tons of feed were procured by the Western Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture for the estimated 1 500 large stock units that needed feed. Agri Western Cape and Gift of the Givers were coordinating feed donations. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform conducted a social impact analysis on farm workers and farm dwellers. On the 20 June 2017, three sites (Elandskraal, Epilepsy South Africa, Zenzele and Westfort Farm) were assessed and the needs such as infrastructure (storage and cold storage facilities, jojo tanks, irrigation pipes, fencing and tunnels) and animal feed were identified.

 

Mr Gerber also mentioned that in terms of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act (Act No. 101 of 1998), which is administered by DAFF, Fire Protection Associations (FPAs) must develop Veld Fire Management Strategies for their areas which should include awareness and education, training, fire danger notifications, early warning systems, fire detection and fire suppression capacity. He reported that these activities were well coordinated by the District and the Province in the management of the disaster; and he commended their efforts.   

 

3.1.2 Eden District Municipality

 

Mr W Jacobs from Eden District Municipality in the Western Cape Province gave a brief background of the incident. He reported that after a severe weather alert was issued by the South African Weather Service (SAWS), the Eden District Disaster Management Centre (DMC) disseminated the early warning to all stakeholders in the District and requested them to inform all communities and sectors that could be affected.  The near gale force winds reached, mostly the southern parts of the District, on Wednesday, 7 June 2017 at about 04h00 in the morning and staff were notified to assess the situation at the Local Municipality level and report any damage or concerns to the Eden District Municipal Committee.

 

The DMC notified provincial and local Governments to place teams on standby to be able to react when necessary. This included reaction in terms of the threat from the sea (storm surge) as well as the gale force winds (fire and structural damage). The DMC was activated to set a regional co-ordination platform and off duty firefighting staff were called in to assist the 12 firefighters that were on duty including 6 per shift in George and 3 per shift in Ladysmith as well as Riversdale. Mr Jacobs also mentioned that before the severe weather alert was issued by the SAWS, the Eden District Municipality staff were deployed to fight a major fire threatening houses in the De Hoop as well as Kouga areas.

 

In the afternoon of Wednesday, 07 June 2017, a fire fanned by a gale force north westerly wind was reported in the Kruisfontein plantation, east of Knysna. The fire was completely out of control and as a precautionary measure, the N2 between Knysna and Bitou had to be closed. On the same day, another fire was reported at the Elandskraal/Barrington area and Eden District teams were dispatched to assist but due to the extreme weather, the fire was also out of control and as a precautionary measure, the N2 between Knysna and Sedgefield had to be closed at 14h00. It was clear that local teams were stretched to the limit and additional resources would be needed from neighboring local as well as district municipalities. The Eden District Municipality facilitated requests for additional resources from National as well as Provincial Departments. The humanitarian and general challenges were also reported.

 

In addition to the bad weather, Mr Jacobs mentioned that poor property management (particularly vacant private properties) also contributed to the extent of the fire-caused disaster. He reported that some property owners were not creating firebreaks as required by the National Veld and Forest Fire Act, 1998 (Act No. 101 of 1998).

 

He emphasised the need for greater awareness and an increase in the number of firefighters for future disasters. He reported that the Eden District Municipality for example, has 12 firefighters per shift and during the fire, it received a lot of assistance from other municipalities, the industry, other Government Departments, private institutions and volunteers. He also reported that the Western Cape Provincial Government has redirected R75 million from its budget to assist the disaster-affected areas.

 

3.1.3 The Western Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture

 

Mr André Roux from the Western Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture (PDA) reported the preliminary assessment that has been done on damages to infrastructure such as fences, electricity power lines, shade cloths and greenhouses, irrigation pumps, pipes, water tanks and watering points for animals, farm houses, sheds, equipment and implements, crop damage (blueberries, honey bush tea) and grazing land.

 

He reported that immediate actions were in place and in the short term, the Western Cape PDA will assist farmers with water infrastructure and other agricultural equipment. The Comprehensive Agriculture Support Programme (CASP) grant will also be used to assist farmers.  He also reported that Agri Western Cape has established three distribution points for emergency fodder relief; support needed to restore water supply for humans, animals and irrigation; repair/replacement of fences; and to save/revitalise damaged crops. The Western Cape Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will also assist with transport costs and to procurement of animal feed (105 tons of lucerne). He concluded that the damage that occurred on both smallholder and commercial farms will have a negative impact on food security; and affected areas and farmers will take some time to recover from the disaster. 

 

3.1.4 Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs - National Disaster

         Management Centre (NDMC)

 

Dr Moses Khangale from the National Disaster Management Centre in the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) reported that the response to the disaster that resulted due to the wild fires that broke out in the Knysna area is regarded as the largest operational deployment of firefighting resources and personnel in a single incident in South Africa’s history. He reported that the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) that is located within COGTA and is responsible for managing disasters in the country, coordinated the national response plan in respect of support provided by National Government Departments. He said a priority Committee on Disaster Management, co-chaired by the NDMC and the South African Police Service (SAPS) convened several meetings to coordinate support to the Western Cape Provincial and District Municipal Committees. The NDMC also assisted with dissemination of early warmings, regular communication and updates including media statements for precautionary measures and to ensure that communities are well informed.

 

Dr Khangale praised the Eden District Municipality and the Western Cape Province for the good coordination of teams to control the fire and the manner in which the disaster was managed. Given the nature of the fire that was also fueled by strong gale force winds, he highlighted that if it was any other province, the damage could have been worse including the number of lives lost; and added that the model could be used to address disasters in other areas. Due to the good coordination of ground teams the Province only requested for aerial assistance from the NDMC during the disaster.  In this regard, the NDMC ensured the activation of aerial resources by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), i.e. six Oryx’s and two BK117s to support veldfire fighting efforts in the Eden District and additional firefighting resources were also deployed by the SANDF. He further reported that the NDMC also deployed officials to support coordination in the Eastern Cape areas that were also affected by the veld fires.

 

Dr Khangale also mentioned that the National Government will still assist the Province through ongoing monitoring and support through relief and mop-up operations through the Community Works Programme (CWP), damage assessments and verification, support for emergency repairs to critical infrastructure through the NDMC grant funding, and ongoing support to humanitarian operations. He reported that the NDMC has a readily available Emergency Fund that can assist municipalities and provinces during disasters. To release the funds, the affected area should submit a disaster report within 90 days of the area being declared as a disaster area.  The NDMC is also working on the preliminary cost of damages as a result of the storm and fires in the area. The Emergency Fund can also assist with irrigation infrastructure and fencing as long as the report is submitted within 90 days of the disaster declaration.

He reported that the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) will provide technical (engineering related) advice to the District Municipality and other role players. MISA will also provide project management support where required and ongoing psycho-social support to communities, volunteers and emergency response teams. He mentioned that all key sector Departments are expected to contribute to the recovery and reconstruction initiatives through their respective funding frameworks.

 

In conclusion, Dr Khangale again commended the Eden District Municipality and the Western Cape Province Disaster Management Teams for the manner in which they have handled and managed the disaster.

 

3.1.5 Mountains to Oceans (MTO) (Pty) Ltd

 

Mr I Kanyemba from MTO Forestry, a company that is managing forest plantations on behalf of DAFF also reported that most of their plantations were affected. He reported that MTO lost 10 700 hectares (25%) of plantations in the area east of Knysna and also lost 1 employee. He said in the short term, there will be no impact on employment but rather an opportunity for creation of more jobs for re-planting of the plantations. However, there might be challenges in the longer term and Mr Kanyemba reported that it will take approximately 10 – 20 years for the forestry plantations to recover in the affected area.

 

4.         SITE VISITS

 

            Jackalskraal (Dairy Farm)

 

The delegation visited the Jackalskraal Dairy Farm, which is owned by a community Trust. The farm was acquired through the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme and received funding from the Western Cape Provincial Department of Agriculture (PDA) through the Comprehensive Agriculture Support Programme (CASP). While the Farm is currently no longer receiving CASP funding, it is getting technical support from the Western Cape PDA through extension services. 

The farm supplies milk to Nestle and employs 16 permanent employees and 10 casual workers (weekends). Its annual profit is between R500 000 and R600 000. The farm’s dairy capacity is 3 000 litres per day from 260 cows, which on average is approximately 13 litres per cow, which goes up to 16 litres per cow during spring.  It has the capacity to milk more than 500 cows.

There are 120 hectares (ha) of arable land in the farm but currently 65 ha are under irrigation. There are plans to build a new modern dairy and also to do value addition. During the fire-caused disaster, the farm experienced a lot of damage to fencing infrastructure due to neighbours not maintaining their properties (e.g. creating firebreaks) and lost some pastures for keeping dry cows.

The fire also affected electricity supply, which resulted in the farm using generators for milk cooling. However, the generators were not powerful enough to keep the milk at the required minimum temperature of 4°C. As a result, the farm lost 3 500 litres of milk as Nestle could not take it because its temperature was too high at 17°C. 

Besides the fire damage, the estimated cost of upgrading the farm was R8 million and the Trust has submitted a business plan to the Western Cape PDA. As part of corporate social investment (CSI), the Trust offers student bursaries for children from the community (R4 000 per student) and equipment to the local crèche.  

 

Kruisfontein Plantation

 

On the way to the dairy farm, the delegation drove by the Kruisfontein Plantation, which is managed by MTO. The Plantation was also affected by the fire including some residential area within the plantation.

 

            Ruigtevlei Plantation

 

The delegation also visited the Ruigtevlei Timber Plantation that is owned by PG Bison Ltd. The manager reported that the Plantation lost 4 000 hectares of forest out of a total of 8 000 hectares as a result of the fire. He mentioned that there were no lives lost as the Plantation dwellers were relocated before the fire could reach the residential area. He also reported that through fire mitigation measures (e.g. lighting a back fire), all the homes were not affected by the fire although it came close to the residential area. 

The swift action and coordination by the Disaster Management team in the area and assistance from MTO, who also lost some plantations in the fire, was commended. The cost of replanting was estimated at R4 000 – R6 000 per ha. The manager also reported that there is a possibility of reviving some of the charred timber by irrigating it but water shortage in the area will be a challenge.  

 

5.         COMMITTEE OBSERVATIONS

 

During interactions and site visits, the Committee made the following observations:

 

5.1        The manner in which the Eden District and the Western Cape Government responded to the disaster is commendable and that other provinces should learn from the Province’s robust system when addressing disasters.  

 

5.2        Slow progress by Government departments in submitting assessment reports during and after a disaster for the National Treasury to release funding, remains a challenge. This is of particular concern in agriculture as it may take years before farmers can recover while some may not recover if assistance is delayed.  

 

5.3        The disaster is likely to negatively impact food security in the Province and to some extent, the country, as some of the affected farmers will take some time to recover.

 

6.         RECOMMENDATIONS

 

The Committee makes the following recommendations to the National Assembly (NA) for the attention of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries:

 

6.1        DAFF, including other relevant Departments such as DRDLR and COGTA should finalise the disaster assessment report to enable Government to release funds from the Emergency Fund to ensure provision of assistance particularly to affected famers to safeguard food security.

 

6.2        DAFF should present to the Committee, a progress report on the assistance that has been given to affected farmers before the end of October 2017.

 

6.3        The Minister should ensure that there are enough resources and capacity for DAFF to effectively implement the National Veld and Forest Fire Act (Act No. 101 of 1998), which mandates, inter alia, that DAFF ensures that all property owners create firebreaks and further monitors this to mitigate and prevent the spread of veld and forest fires. Plans in this regard should be submitted to Parliament by the end of November 2017.

               

Report to be considered.

 

 

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