Farmer laments 'pitiable' Covid-19 relief as department says it is not intended as comprehensive support
The R10 000 voucher he has received, which is redeemable at selected outlets, is pitiable considering “my bill for all livestock feed is plus-minus R3 000 a week”.
From his own stack of receipts are payments amounting R3438 for the current week.
Pheto keeps sheep, poultry and goats on his premises but it is his speciality, pigs, that has earned him acclaim in the Magalies area, bordering Gauteng and North West where his farm is located.
His eyes light up when he talks about pig farming, which he’s been doing for 18 years.
The assistance from the government can only feed his animals for about three weeks, Pheto says.
Pheto said he saw the announcement in the press and made calls to the Randfontein offices of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. After a few more calls, an official from Pretoria was dispatched to his farm to assess his needs.
Pheto said more effort was expended on filling in forms and travels to his farm than in determining the extent of his requirements.
“Altogether, three officials came here. The paperwork takes time. It cost more to prepare to get assistance.”
Pheto is not unaccustomed to government assistance: “Normally, around elections, they will come knocking.” But his gripe with the current aid is that the voucher is restricted to accredited stockists of feed: “You can only use the vouchers at black-owned dealers but the quality of the feed is not what I prefer for my livestock.”
His preferred stockist is in Four Rivers, in the Derby area, further west of his farm.
But he has to be wary. The last time he was given government help, he lost 45 piglets due to the inferior quality of the feed.
He sells his pigs at three months for anything between R1500 and R1800 at an auction in Brandvlei, Randfontein, he said.
On the day of our visit on Tuesday, the auction truck was due to fetch the next day’s stock for trade - 12 pigs.
“They are well-fed. They must be playful,” said the farmer. “They must not be too fat, though. As you can see, they are just meat.”
It is very busy in his pens - two sows are pregnant while another has just given birth. A litter can be between 12 and 15 piglets. “I once had 22; and all 22 lived,” he beams with pride. A returned exile, Pheto is definitely onto something with his pigs as he is something of a go-to guy for many wishing to breed pigs.
In one of his books, The Bull from Moruleng: Vistas of Home and Exile, he writes extensively about his passion for pig farming.
Media liaison officer at the department, Reggie Ngcobo, lists the criteria for this assistance follows:
- A South African citizen Smallholder or communal farmers.
- Having annual turnover of R20000 to R1million.
- Have proof of access to land
- Producing poultry, vegetables, fruit, winter crops and other livestock.
- A number of people employed in the farming enterprise.
- Good farming practices.
Acess to market priority was given to women, youth and people with disabilities.
Ngcobo said the department does not take into account the budgetary needs of any individual farmer: “The relief is not comprehensive support but an intervention to alleviate the impact of Covid-19 on farming operations. The size of farming operation is taken into account, however, the maximum support that can be given to any farmer is capped at R50 000.
“All applications have been processed. The closing date for applications was 22 April, 2020 and thereafter applications went through an evaluation process. Approvals were finalised by the end of May 2020 and successful applicants were informed in the third week of June 2020.”
The assistance is up to a maximum of six months. It is not clear how Pheto, a literate man, could have misunderstood any of the above and ended up with a paltry once-off grant.
Ngcobo said the problem could have arisen in the process of filling in the forms.