Worries about drought relief funds

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Kimberley - The fifty million rand allocated to the Northern Cape for drought relief could be a disaster in itself if not managed properly.

This is according to Agri Northern Cape manager, Johan van Rensburg, who yesterday said while farmers affected by the severe drought in large parts of the Province were extremely grateful for the R50 million allocation, the relief fund had the potential to become a disaster in itself if not properly managed.

After media reports slamming the provincial government for their reluctance to assist drought-stricken farmers in the midst of “one of the worst droughts in recent history” earlier this week, the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, announced yesterday that it had received about R50 million from the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) for drought relief in the Province.

This comes after Premier Sylvia Lucas, declared the Province a (provincial) disaster area in December 2013.

The department’s communication officer, Phemelo Manankong, said yesterday that “every effort was utilised to source the necessary funding for the drought”.

“These efforts resulted in the department securing R50 million via the Provincial Disaster Management Centre (PDMC) from the NDMC for animal fodder late last month,” Manankong stated.

He added that the process of acquiring and distributing the relief fodder would start as soon as possible, after a few “minor details” were finalised.

“Each District Agriculture Manager will give the affected farmers in their district more details of the distribution of the fodder once this information is made available. The verification and classification process (of affected farmers) was done in January and February by the NDMC, PDMC, national and provincial departments of Agriculture as well as Agri Northern Cape,” Manankong said.

He added that John Taolo Gaetsewe, Namakwa and Frances Baard were the three district municipalities in the Province that had been the hardest hit by the 2013 drought.

The drought has had an especially dire impact on cattle farmers, with various reports of starving animals on farms throughout the Province, where there was “not a blade of grass left” as a result of the drought.

The devastating veld fires in the Koopmansfontein area in November 2012 further aggravated the situation, as hundreds of thousands of hectares of grazing veld were completely scorched.

Van Rensburg, said yesterday that he only read about the R50 million allocation in the media and that he had received no communication from the department regarding the fund, despite Agri Northern Cape bringing forward an application to have the Province declared a disaster area in May last year. He added that he also only heard that the Province was declared a disaster area via the government gazette.

“We, as Agri Northern Cape, are still completely in the dark on who will qualify for the funds and how distribution will work. It is also still unclear if commercial farmers will benefit or if the fund will only be directed to communal farmers,” Van Rensburg said.

He added if not managed properly the fund could lead to disaster, as was the case in North West where the drought relief fund of R35 million went on a tender process.

Boeta du Toit, manager of Agri North West, said yesterday that various role-players designed and proposed a scheme where beneficiaries of the feed would each receive a “debit card” credited with an allocated amount, with which they could purchase feed from service providers and other farmers.

“The advantage of such a scheme is that farmers can buy the specific feed they need, when they need it, at the supplier closest to them, thereby controlling quality and transport costs. This scheme was unfortunately rejected at national level, in favour of placing the procurement and distribution of fodder on a tender process.

“This process opened itself to extortion and corruption, as was seen when the State paid R230 per bag of feeding pellets, that would normally retail for about R95 per bag. This meant that needy farmers received fodder to the values of less than 50 percent of the initial R35 million allocated for drought relief in the North West, with the rest being pocketed by the eight individuals who got the tenders,” Du Toit said.

He added that maladministration also had a catastrophic impact on drought-stricken farmers, with the names of more than 10 000 of the initial amount of 23 000 farmers as beneficiaries being duplications.

“This meant that those most in need received only a fraction of what they were entitled to. If the initial R35 million was given directly to Agri North West, we could have easily received value amounting to R200 million, by buying from farmers with surplus and negotiating lower prices,” Du Toit added.

Van Rensburg added Agri Northern Cape was in favour of the “debit card” scheme because it would eliminate opportunities for committing tender fraud. - Diamond Fields Advertiser



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