DA slams agriculture department for failing to apply for drought relief
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Bloemfontein - The Democratic Alliance in the Free State has strongly criticised the provincial agriculture and rural development department for failing to apply for drought relief for struggling farmers in the province.
"It is a disgrace that the Free State department of agriculture and rural development (DARD) failed to apply for national drought relief after the Free State was declared a drought disaster area," DA MPL and leader of the official opposition in the legislature Roy Jankielsohn said in a statement on Sunday.
National Treasury had allocated R138 489 000 for drought relief to provinces in the 2020/21 financial year and, while other provinces received between R4 million and R35 million, the Free State did not receive a cent, he said.
The DA requested the premier to declare the Free State a provincial disaster area in 2019, which was done. It was the responsibility of the Free State DARD to apply for the necessary funding after many requests were made from local farmers for drought relief assistance.
The agricultural sector in the Free State had been badly affected by the drought, and the effects of this were felt even after the first rain of a new season. The economic impact of drought on farmers had serious implications for the province’s rural economies and employment.
"Drought disaster relief for the agricultural sector that supplies our country’s food under difficult conditions requires immediate action and should be planned for way in advance. Our agricultural sector bears the negative burdens of climate change and political, economic, social, and rural security threats. Many farmers have had to sell capital assets required for production in order to survive during droughts, while others and their employees remain destitute," Jankielsohn said.
It was "criminal" that the Free State DARD continued to be plagued by allegations of corruption amounting to millions of rand while many farming enterprises had fallen into financial ruin, simply because the department did not bother to apply for assistance.
It appeared that the DARD did not understand how economic and seasonal cycles in the agricultural sector function. One would expect the DARD to understand that a farming business took many seasons to recover from the financial impacts of a severe drought.
Even though the coronavirus (Covid-19) would consume many financial resources, a healthy agricultural sector was a prerequisite for a healthy population. All farmers, whether commercial, emerging, or subsistence, required as much support as the victims of the pandemic.
"It remains problematic that MECs of the DARD in the Free State continue to be appointed on a political basis, and show little understanding for the diverse aspects relating to this important portfolio," Jankielsohn said.