The Theewaterskloof Dam, a key source of water supply to Cape Town, is now at very low levels. This week, Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape was declared a water disaster area after major storage dams dropped to 38.5%. The Western Cape was also declared a disaster area on Monday, in response to the worst drought the province has experienced since 1904. - ANA Picture: Halden Krog / AP
South African farmers called for an investigation into how R2.5billion of government funds earmarked for drought relief last year was spent, after many commercial farms received no state help.

Only R1bn was allocated to government departments, of which about 85percent was spent during a period in which six of the country’s nine provinces were declared disaster areas, according to research from Agri SA. Of the R1bn, just 0.24percent went to commercial farmers and much of the money was wasted on inexperienced distribution companies and overpriced feed and boreholes, the farmers’ group said.

“This is a warning shot, a flag going up to say we need to investigate these things,” Omri Van Zyl, executive director of Agri SA, said on Thursday in Centurion. “We need a proper delivery system to help us in such a crisis.”

South Africa experienced the worst drought in more than a century in 2015 and the dry weather continued in 2016, pushing up food prices and hurting small-scale and commercial farmers. President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation Address on February 9 that the government made R2.5bn available for livestock feed, water infrastructure and auction sales. Agri SA has asked the Public Protector and Auditor General to investigate and wants the country to develop a national action plan to deal with drought.

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The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) will co-operate with any inquiry and will work with Agri SA to find out where the money was spent, acting spokesperson Steve Galane said. The Daff allocated R212million for drought-relief measures, but only spent R146m, 90percent of which went to subsistence farmers, Agri SA said. Several inexperienced logistics companies were procured at high cost by local government officials to distribute animal feed when its members were willing to do the job for free or below cost, the group said. 

“If that R212m was spent correctly we could have helped twice the number of farmers that we did,” said Dan Kriek, Agri SA’s vice president.

Heavy rain across most provinces this year and the end of 2016 has given farmers relief from the drought and the country’s Crop Estimates Committee is forecasting a record maize crop. However, the drought still persists in the Northern and Western Cape provinces.