Export value has increased and South Africa remains in a positive trade balance in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. Furthermore, the value of agriculture, forestry and fisheries exports increased from R135bn in 2014 to R144bn in 2015, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Mr Senzeni Vokwana told Members of the National Assembly (NA) during the Budget Debate on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recently in Parliament.
He said exports from these sectors into other African countries increased from R59bn to R62bn and into Asia from R34.5bn to R37.1bn. “The department will continue to focus on increasing intra-African trade and other global trade opportunities,” stressed Mr Vokwana.
According to Mr Vokwana, the current contribution of the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors towards the gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.7% is far below the capacity of the sector. “At the same time we should also note agriculture boosts the GDP directly by 2% and by another 12% from related manufacturing and processing,” he said.
Mr Vokwana also told NA MPs that his department has allocated R381m towards drought relief following the reprioritisation of the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme and Ilima/Letsema Funds. “Our focus is on the provision of animal feed, drilling and equipping of boreholes for smallholder and subsistence farmers. Working with the provincial departments of agriculture, we have drilled 224 boreholes and 78 have been successfully completed,” said Mr Vokwana.
He said the Land Bank has also made available an amount of R400m for concessional loans to commercial farmers affected by the drought. Through the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), according to Mr Vokwana, the Department of Agriculture has introduced a drought-tolerant maize seed. “In the financial year 2014-15 the ARC distributed 10 000 seed packs to smallholder farmers in various provinces.”
The total value of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ budget vote for 2016-17 is R6.333bn of which R3.292bn is ring-fenced for transfers of conditional and Parliamentary Grants. According to Mr Vokwana, the terms and conditions of the grants are that R1.6bn has been allocated to the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme, R491.4m to Ilima/Letsema and R69.3m to the Landcare Programme. In terms of Parliamentary Grants, R241.8m has been allocated to the Marine Living Resources Fund, R813m to the ARC, R35m to the National Agricultural Marketing Council and R5.935m to Ncera farms.
Speaking in the debate, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ms Machwene Semenya called on the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to refocus its efforts on supporting farmers, farm workers and farm dwellers in the post-drought period by means of a post-drought recovery plan that will ensure South Africa’s food security status both nationally and at the household level.
“The department should make concerted efforts in supporting subsistent and smallholder production as this is crucial in the revitalisation and transformation of our agricultural sector,” said Ms Semenya.
She urged the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to refocus its activities on the high impact projects that will grow the economy, create jobs and ensure food security in line with the policy priorities outlined in the National Development Plan and in the 2016 State of the National Address of President Jacob Zuma.
She praised the ARC in its ground-breaking work on the development of the heartwater vaccine as well as the drought-tolerant seeds. “These developments will prove to be a game changer for South African producers and could greatly improve access to export market,” said Ms Semenya
Ms Annette Steyn, who is also the member of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and who also participated in the debate, reminded NA MPs about the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC’s) declaration of the SADC as a drought disaster area and its calling upon the national governments, international aid organisations and the private sector to assist in ensuring food security for 50 million people affected by the drought.
In contrast, according to Ms Steyn. the South African government failed to respond to such a call. “Thirty-four million South Africans were without water during February when we experienced record high temperatures. It is not believable that 56% of South Africans could be without water and that is not declared a national disaster,” said Ms Steyn.
She said according to the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation, it is estimated that time that approximately 65 000 animals had already died or had to be slaughtered because farmers could no longer afford to feed them. “No real assistance to farmers was given and the feed that was provided was totally inadequate to feed the animals,” said Ms Steyn.
Ms Steyn also highlighted the rising trend of farm murders. “This week again two farmers were murdered in Vryheid. It brings the total of farmers murdered in April alone to four. If we do not deal with farm murders we won’t have farmers to plant and we won’t have food in our country.”