Smallholder farmers who have benefitted from the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development’s (DALRRD) R1.2 billion covid-19 relief fund say they can finally breathe easier again.
After weeks of administrative and supply woes, minister Thoko Didiza has extended the validity of vouchers rolled out to successful applicants until the 31st of July.
More than 15 000 small-scale farmers were identified as beneficiaries throughout the country. Anxious farmers who were successful in their applications contacted Food For Mzansi over the delays in accessing their R50 000 inputs in the form of vouchers.
The announcement comes at the right time, says Xolela Skali, a small-scale poultry farmer in King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape. The support has made a huge difference in his life, the 42-year-old says.
Skali turned to farming to support his family after years of unemployment. Before the intervention, the stricter measures under alert levels five and four had strained his poultry business to the point of closure. With this funding he has been able to revive and expand his egg production business.
“With this support, I am getting 100 more chickens so that I can revive my business, because it died under level five. I couldn’t even buy feed and all the supplies I needed. I was forced at some stage to slaughter some chickens and use some eggs for my family and neighbours. I am moving from my parents’ yard to my own yard, where I am busy now building a bigger structure.”
Arthur Matlala, an award-winning farmer in Limpopo, had been in distress before he was selected as a beneficiary of the covid-19 relief fund.
The 30-year-old runs a thriving butternut farming business on a 3.5-hectare communal plot in the village of Ga-Mathapo and urgently needed intervention for his business. He has, however, noted that there are still issues when it comes to accessing inputs from suppliers.
“I was struggling to buy seedlings and fertilizers before the funding came through. When you would go to local suppliers, they would dispute the voucher and deny having arrangements with government.”
Matlala adds that apart from this roadblock he has been able to continue his business operations.
Oupa Shai is a 42-year-old mango and livestock farmer in the town of Trichardtsdal in Limpopo. As a beneficiary of the department’s Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) plan he says this R50 000 is not enough to get by.
In 2013, he was placed on a 208-hectare farm where he now runs a mango plantation and processes the fruit into atchar.
“The money for the diesel and the labour, that is not included. It is a bit complicated, this thing. The government tried but it was never going to be enough. The electricity that we pay is about R9000 per month,” Shai laments.
Didiza’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, confirms that the extension has been set for the 31st of July. This extension will ensure that small-scale producers complete their transactions without the pressure of time and gives suppliers time to ensure the availability of input stock, says Ngcobo.
“We have been made aware that some retailers do not have enough stock to give to farmers,” he says. “The deadline period on the validity of vouchers had been set for 30th of June. This month-long extension is to allow enough time for the farmer and supplier to get inputs together on the list of supplies that have been approved by the department.”
The funding is unique, Ngcobo adds. The R1.2 billion fund, he says, is a direct response to the immediate crisis faced by small-scale farmers who have been affected by the global covid-19 pandemic.
“This is an intervention to make sure that we assist farmers while the country is faced with this pandemic. Specially to make sure that they continue with production.”
Ngcobo has clarified that the fund is not directed towards addressing the long-term issues experienced by farmers.
“We made it clear from the onset when we said that this is an intervention. We are trying to assist, we were not saying to the farmers we are going to give everything that they need,” he sternly says.