Government puts in R1bn to give the Covid-hit agricultural industry a boost
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JOHANNESBURG - THE GOVERNMENT has set aside a R1 billion employment stimulus package for small-scale and subsistence farmers whose production was disrupted by Covid-19.
The Department of Agriculture yesterday launched the Presidential Employment Stimulus package to sustain and increase jobs in the agricultural sector.
Minister of Agriculture Thoko Didiza said subsistence food producers remained the most affected as the whole agricultural sector was negatively impacted by Covid-19.
Didiza said these were producers who utilise land in the back yards of their homes, gardens in communal areas, all of which were more or less the size of a soccer field.
She said it was these producers who created a bulwark against the fight of food insecurity at household level.
“We are targeting the smallest within the agricultural sector. It is them that currently our agricultural policies do not address their needs adequately,” Didiza said.
“It is these producers who may be defined as unbankable by our financial sector, and yet their role is important in providing food security for many families in our country.”
The local agricultural industry has weathered the foot-and-mouth disease storm that killed their livestock before the pandemic hit and are now dealing with locusts devastating crops in some parts of the country.
The department said support would come in a form of farming input vouchers ranging in value between R1 000 and R9 000 for people actively involved in agricultural production.
Acting deputy director general responsible for food security in the department Dr Jemina Moeng said R9 000 was larger than other departmental subsistence programmes.
“We want to support individual households, and we will be considering farmers with one hectare or less,” Moeng said.
Agriculture contributed around 1.88 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) last year, becoming the only positive contributor when the economy collapsed in this year’s second quarter.
Last year, Statistics South Africa found that three quarters of households resort to growing their own food for consumption.
The number of people who were severely food insecure had thus declined to 10 percent in 2018, from 13 percent a decade earlier.
Agri SA’s executive director Christo van der Rheede said the subsidies were unlikely to create jobs in the sector.
“We are in the dark as to why the department called this an employment stimulus package because subsistence farmers generally do not employ people,” Van der Rheede said.
“It looks more like a welfare package to assist them. If it’s an aid package then it should be called that. This will not stimulate employment or is a stimulus plan.”
Didiza said the biggest beneficiaries of the subsidies would be subsistence food producers, who were, in the majority, women.
“We have therefore decided to target 50 percent of women to be beneficiaries in this intervention,” she said.
“Forty percent of these will be youth and 6 percent the disabled and unemployed military veterans.”