Agricultural economist Malapane Thamaga believes government could take a leaf out of the Maize Trust’s book and already commence with applications for the 2022-2023 farmer support programme.
According to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), the summer crops planting season in Mzansi takes place from as early as October and, usually, ends on about 7 January. These are estimated optimal maize planting dates for our summer crop production areas.
However, there are more and more farmers that are planting as late as the end of January, especially for sunflower and soyabeans, due to climate changes.
In the Maize Trust engagement, both the South African Grain Farmer Association (Sagra) and Grain SA shared confidential details about their work in the past planting season. The picture presented by both organisations was very impressive.
The trust further entertained discussions on how farmers’ applications for support would be handled as well as processes relating to monitoring and evaluation. This left one wondering why the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development couldn’t do the same. Perhaps, they’re already doing it, but not everyone is privileged to this information.
However, if the 2021-2022 planting season is anything to go by, there is a lot that has to be improved on.
I have to confess that since joining both Nerpo and Afasa in 2016 I have defaulted into an agricultural activist for black farmers more than being an agricultural economist. Accordingly, the end of 2021 saw me add yet another responsibility to my portfolio: joining the Agricultural Transformation Focus (ATF) platform.
Constructively engaging government
For those who are not familiar with the ATF, it is an online platform championing the agricultural transformation discourse in South Africa. The intention is to make these engagements available via YouTube going forward. The establishment of this platform was made necessary by a hunger for information in the agricultural sector and to proactively and constructively engage government about anything agriculture. Accordingly, these engagements are hosted in partnership of Afasa in Gauteng.
Among the topics covered towards the end of 2021, through the ATF, was preparations for the 2021-2022 planting season. As we typically do, both government officials at the highest level in provinces and farmer leaders were invited to share their views on the matter.
Coincidentally, this engagement was hosted on the same day the Gauteng MEC for economic development, agriculture and land reform, Parks Tau, launched his farmer support programme for the same planting season in Bronkhorstspruit.
His chief director for farmer support, Mncedisi Madolo, was able to join us live from the launch. Among other government officials who joined were Mpumalanga’s head of agriculture, Mr Chunda, and a representative from the North West agriculture department, Esther Mnguni.
In this session plans were outlined, and farmers were also afforded an opportunity to vent their frustrations regarding planting season related support, including late arrival of inputs, provision of poor-quality seeds, lack of mechanisation, etc.
On 3 February 2022 during a follow-up session it was disheartening to learn that, among other provinces, Gauteng was yet to deliver fertiliser to beneficiaries as promised. Only later in the month fertilisers were delivered. One wonders what these fertilisers would be used for at this time of the year.
The late arrival was blamed on the tendering system that has seen suppliers making deliveries late. In fact, farmers had planned to march to the department but were afforded a meeting with the head of agriculture in Gauteng, Metilda Gasela. Promises were made to the farmers’ demands and the idea of the march was disbanded.
However, the story painted by the manager of farmer support in the Free State, Mangi Ramabenyani, was promising. According to her, instead of the bureaucratic tendering system, the Free State uses a cost item called “household and subsistence”.
The latter allows the agriculture department the freedom to allocate all beneficiaries of farmer support, especially commercially geared black farmers, specific amounts according to their needs to be used exclusively for purchases of inputs.
Farmers are therefore given the power to get three quotations from the suppliers of their choice from which the department with then pick one. This presentation was received with warmly by attendees of the ATF webinar with some asking why this could not be duplicated in other provinces.
On the other hand, farmers in the Eastern Cape were seemingly pleased by how newly elected MEC for rural development and agrarian reform, Nonkqubela Pieters, handled the farmer support programme in partnership with commodity groups, Sagra in particular. In contrast, the story is disheartening for Mpumalanga with many farmers claiming that the 2021-2022 farmer support was non-existent.
There is also a growing concern that seemingly government favours farmers who acquired land through LRAD and PLAS programmes while those who privately acquired the land were left unattended to for both the Covid-19 disaster support and 2021-2022 planting support programmes.
With all these challenges, it clearly requires more time to process farmer support related applications. Therefore, it only makes sense that the national government should learn from the Maize Trust and begin now to start with the applications and processing of the 2022-2023 farmer support programme.
Perhaps, in addition, there is a need for ongoing roundtable discussions between government and the grain sector – as is the case for fruit farmers through FruitSA. In this way, duplication of responsibilities may be avoided and both these sectors (private and public) will run in sync achieve more with less.
Agricultural economist Malapane Thamaga is a ministerial representative on the Maize Trust.
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