by DA Media –
Date: 26 June 2017
Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature today by the Democratic Alliance’s provincial spokesperson on Agriculture, Boitumelo Babuseng MPL, during the debate on the budget for the Department of Agriculture.
Members of this House
Guests in the gallery
Agriculture in the Northern Cape remains a long way off from the vibrant and transformed sector that we had hoped it would be by now.
The number of black commercial farmers in the Northern Cape remains minimal and the number of self-sustaining land reform projects in the province is pitiful.
Hon. Speaker, over the years countless agricultural opportunities, with massive potential, have been lost in the province.
Perhaps the most relevant example is the “commercialization of goats” project, of which the public entity, Kalahari Kid, was nominated as the Special Purpose Vehicle.
Despite its promise to formalize the South African goat industry and create thousands of jobs, Kalahari Kid has, for the past fifteen years, failed to operate as a going concern.
The question that must be asked is: “why is the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture not capable of harnessing the significant agricultural opportunity that exists within this province?”
The answer is complex but I will try to explain some of the key reasons:
1. On a political level, this government’s tunnel vision approach towards so-called radical transformation has created much uncertainty.
Hon. Speaker, one cannot simply play with the Constitution, you are playing with fire. And at a time when agriculture desperately needs investors and strategic partners in order to get land reform projects off the ground, this will not only do our people a disservice but it will also exacerbate food security, unemployment and poverty.
2. The management of this department has also deteriorated. The department is no longer run by agricultural experts but rather by SACP loyalists, who simply do not understand the agricultural sector and, in many instances, have to oversee officials who are far better qualified than themselves. This frustrates experienced agriculturalists and fuels vacancy rates. It also impacts on unbiased, informed and efficient decision making:
• Example one is the politically motivated decision by this department to not pursue criminal charges for theft at certain research stations. Amongst other things, this has ultimately resulted in the discontinuation of valuable research projects, such as the maize trial as well as the goat trial. This is tragic and will result in the loss of crucial data for the province.
• Example two is the lack of transparency with regards to the distribution of resources and livestock, such as the Livestock Improvement Programme’s allocation of Bonsmara cattle to the very same farmers, year in and year out.
• Example three is the “trial and error” approach of this department, which is fuelled by a lack of technical expertise at a senior level. We only have to consider the costly, triple debushing of the Onseepkans vineyards, or the department’s inability to replicate the successes of its Blocuso vineyard project, to substantiate this point.
3. Hon. Speaker, the knock on effect of weak management also translates into a staff component which is not adequately capacitated and equipped:
• There is a shortage of skilled extension officers, who are overworked, which in turn results in a lack of productivity.
• Also, animal health technicians, who are predominantly out in the field doing de-worming, vaccinations and so forth, are not even equipped with cellular phones. This severely hampers farmers’ access to critical advice and services.
4. Another serious issue is the top down approach of the department. Pen pushers draw up and finalize mega plans without even consulting relevant stakeholders. As a result, the department does not get the necessary buy-in to its projects.
This, Hon. Speaker, will be the downfall of the “game-changing” Agri-Parks, which are a great concept on paper, but only on paper.
5. The last point that I want to raise is this department’s lack of ownership of the agricultural sector, which is seen in the lack of integration and coordination with other departments on transversal issues impacting on agriculture:
• In certain areas, the condition of provincial roads is so dire that contractors who are transporting agricultural produce are refusing to accept certain jobs;
• Just last weekend, a farmer in the Kimberley area lost 15 heads of cattle to stock theft;
• Reeds in certain parts of the Orange River are significantly overgrown, obstructing water flow and threatening irrigation and putting further strain on scarce water resources;
• Real time data regarding capacity of dams is no longer readily available;
• The Land Reform Department allocates land parcels in isolation of the department, in turn affecting support services to land reform beneficiaries;
• And it is questionable whether Onderstepoort will be able to supply farmers with the necessary quality and quantity of “Africa-related” vaccinations in the event of an emergency.
Hon. Speaker, if agriculture in the Northern Cape is to flourish then departments simply cannot afford to work in silos. There must be a single point of entry for farmers who require support, as opposed to countless debilitating referrals from pillar to post.
This department also needs to take the politics out of agriculture; appoint a senior management team that understands what farming is all about; increase accountability for its finances; show greater commitment to ALL farmers; institute better transparency with regards to its programmes and talk WITH farmers and not AT them.
The DA does not support this budget vote. Thank you.
Boitumelo Babuseng MPL
DA Provincial Spokesperson for Agriculture
082 302 2117 / 079 874 6179
071 251 5558