Billions wasted in plan to aid farmers

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Parliament

Independent Newspapers

Parliament in Cape Town. Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - The billions of rands spent by the government on the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme had not lifted many subsistence farmers out of poverty, parliamentary researchers told the agriculture portfolio committee in Parliament yesterday.

The programme, adopted in 2009, was designed to empower rural communities to take control of their lives with improved access to services, investment and enterprise development.

However, to do so required government officials to “hold the hands” of those they wanted to uplift and guide them with skills development from subsistence farmer to small-scale farmer to small commercial farmer.

This was not happening. Some of those who had been given funds for development years ago had since moved away to find employment as domestic workers, and the money invested was essentially wasted.

Nokuzola Mgxashe, parliamentary content adviser to the portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said the land reform programme was being hampered by government departments working in silos and competing with each other, instead of using their limited resources to complement each other.

As parliamentary committees, MPs could force departments to work together.

“We need to say: ‘Rural Development, this is your allocation and don’t straddle Agriculture. And you must have timetables and deadlines.’”

There was also a lack of monitoring of land reform projects. This had led to beneficiaries of these projects learning almost nothing.

A serious problem in the agriculture department was the lack of extension officers and their lack of skills.

“There are areas where communities don’t even know who their extension officer is. And because of lack of skills, some can’t give the services needed.”

There was also a critical shortage of other skills in the department, such as vets.

A major shortcoming was the complete lack of baseline data on small-scale and subsistence farmers, their numbers, location, land access, productive potential and research needs.

“It is very hard to evaluate a programme’s implementation success if there are no baseline statistics,” Mgxashe said.


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