The North West provincial legislature portfolio chairperson on agriculture and rural development, Bitsa Lenkopane, has called on the provincial government to tighten their farmer capacitating programmes and align themselves with what is happening on the ground.
Lenkopane said from the oversight point of view they were less impressed with projects that were not being implemented to their finality and money going back to state coffers without farmers being developed.
In an interview with Food For Mzansi, Lenkopane said the department needed to work around the clock to ensure that they deliver on their mandate.
Tiisetso Manoko: During your recent oversight as the portfolio committee, what were some of the concerns you picked up from the farmers in North West?
Bitsa Lenkopane: The aim of the visit was to check on the projects that the government has been busy with for the past four years and we wanted to see for ourselves as the committee if those projects have an impact on the lives of the farmers and communities.
We were also forced to go on the ground because the department has not been doing well in terms of its expenditure on the grants which include building kraals, access to water, and all that farmers need to operate.
After this visit, we have agreed that we need to go back and the department needs to call the farmers and iron out the differences. We will want to see a totally different picture when we go back because there are projects that are hanging and not completed, and importantly communities and farmers need to benefit from government projects.
Many projects in the province remain unfinished which seems to be the problem when the committee does its oversight.
For example, the Taung irrigation system is one of the projects that the department really to focus on. We cannot have infrastructure grants going back to the state when there is ailing infrastructure that hampers farmers in those areas to farm better and get access to water.
We have, however, given the department targets that in the entire province they need to focus on delivering meaningful projects to the farming community.
The department needs to make sure that they assist farmers through the whole value chain. When we’re on the ground, it is totally different scene from what the department will be telling us.
We had farmers getting boreholes, but those boreholes did not have water. The department started a poultry project but did not supply electricity. Ultimately, those chickens would die.
The department needs to use its resources fully, including engineers and researchers regarding farmer support.
There seems to be no plan for addressing veld fires in North West every fire season. The province’s farmers are left to fend for themselves. What is not being done about veld fires from a government perspective?
The department seems to not have an understanding of how best to tackle the veld fire and its impact.
We have advised the department to proactively assist farmers because some of the farmers have experienced veld fires for the past three years and they have nowhere to farm. The department needs to get their environmental expert on board and deal with the veld fires.
The people who are experiencing veld fires in the Kagisano Molopo area are close to the Kalahari Desert near Botswana and Namibia where heatwaves are the norm, so we need experts to advise the department on the way forward.
With the portfolio committee having gone to the ground, what are the major concerns that you have given to the department?
There are a lot of challenges that we believe need to be processed by the department. However, as the committee, we have come to the conclusion that the department has weak administrators to understand the broader plan of the department and how they will want to carry out the mandate of the entity. As a result, one will say they have reached a state of collapse.
Along the way, there is no consequence management on what has not been achieved by the department and it needs to start from top to bottom so we are expecting the leadership of the department to take charge of that.
The department officials have been involved in several global trips for benchmarking. Do you think they can improve how things are done by the department?
As the portfolio committee, we were not furnished with any benchmarking trips. How do you go and benchmark when you have spent four years without a farmer register as to who is where and what they are farming with?
We are not against any trips but all we are saying, is that let what was presented to us as a plan for the year be implemented as such.
As the committee, we are still awaiting a farmer registry to know precisely how many farmers we have in the province.
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