One of South Africa’s biggest players in organised agriculture – Agri SA – has launched a fight for remuneration on locust-combatting contractors’ behalf. Some contractors have been waiting to be paid for up to six months.
The organisation released a press statement yesterday (Thursday, 9 June 2022) in which it says it has written to national agri minister Thoko Didiza to request an investigation into the non-payment of critical service providers. This, as the contractors are combatting the “worst locust outbreak of the past 25 years”.
To date, the current outbreak has affected more than 24 million hectares of agricultural land in South Africa.
“If no action is taken, government could lose the services of vital locust officers even as millions of hectares of crops remain in danger of extensive damage as a result of the ongoing crisis,” the statement reads.
Government is aware of the problem
Agri SA says it has repeatedly alerted the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development to the problem of delayed payments to locust officers, “the people directly responsible for pesticide spraying”.
The organisation says that some of the contractors have not been paid for up to six months. “Moreover, the fuel allowance has not been adjusted since 2013 and, with the current record-high fuel price, locust officers now find themselves in dire financial straits.”
It says that, despite weekly requests for the matter to be investigated, no action has been taken and that it is a critical threat to the sector’s ability to combat the outbreak.
“As a result of the department’s inaction, some of the locust officers have now sought legal counsel, and the threat of litigation looms unless the matter is addressed urgently.
“Agri SA is particularly concerned that the current situation will not only cause locust officers to withdraw their services, but will also undermine the department’s future ability to contract service providers to fulfil essential functions in future crises.”
Officials taking leave
To add to stakeholders’ concerns, a weekly joint operations meeting between contractors and government representatives, which was supposed to happen as usual on Wednesday (8 June 2022), was cancelled because of officials taking leave.
“That this is happening as this issue hits a crisis point, has necessitated the escalation of the matter,” Agri SA says in its statement. “Agri SA has therefore seen no alternative but to appeal for Minister Didiza’s intervention.”
In addition to addressing the immediate need, Agri SA has also requested that Didiza initiate an investigation into how the payment system can be improved to avoid similar challenges in the future.
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