When South Africa’s ministry responsible for agriculture announced that the Presidential Employment Stimulus Initiative (PESI) scheme for subsistence farmers would be brought to a grinding halt, Mzansi quickly took to social media to commend the department for its “very wise move”.
The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development announced its shocking decision to suspend the programme on Thursday, 13 January 2022.
The spokesperson for the department, Reggie Ngcobo, told Food For Mzansi last week that there was no indication of when the suspension would be lifted, but added that, taking planting seasons into consideration, it will likely not be very long.
The PESI programme forms part of government’s effort to address the country’s unemployment challenge and sustain self-employment for subsistence producers.
However, since it’s first rollout, beneficiaries have inundated the department with complaints about the challenges they experience with the scheme. Farmers reported being charged exorbitant fees by suppliers when buying production inputs, which led to some resorting to selling or exchanging their vouchers for cash.
“These implementation challenges cannot be left unattended, hence the decision by the department to temporarily halt the current implementation,” the department said.
Social media reactions on PESI suspension
After news of the suspension broke, the nation was quick to let the department know about their thoughts on the matter on social media and most expressed great relief over the decision to put a lid on it.
In a Facebook post, MH de Farmer said, “Good decision. Those vouchers were benefitting the agents more than the farmers. I hope they come back redeemable at any agri shop. No more [of] those sharks.”
Robert Maake commented, “They were meant for agriculture but were misused. Some applicants do not even have gardens. They redeemed the vouchers to buy things far from agriculture.”
Mncedisi Calvin Jwara lauded the step and said, “I think it’s a good decision. There were selling their vouchers on social media platforms.”
Organised agri welcomes dismantling
Representing organised agriculture, Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede said they agreed with the deferment of the PESI voucher initiative.
“All the issues that undermine the integrity of the system must be investigated and transgressions and transgressors be identified. The beneficiaries of the PESI initiative must be active farmers, not people who are not farming at all. But most importantly, all those charging exorbitant fees and abusing the system for personal gain must be blacklisted.”
The chairperson of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (AFASA), Neo Masithela, said that they were not entirely satisfied with the move.
“We’ve heard that it has been suspended and hope that it will be reshaped in such a way that it helps the farmers who could contribute in creating new employment opportunities,” he said.
Masithela said there were many farmers, especially in rural areas, who needed the support the PESI scheme provided, many of whom were encouraged to join South Africa’s farming sector. He agreed, however, that the scheme enriched established white-owned businesses to a large extent with little benefit to its intended target.
“How does [PESI] help transform the agricultural sector? For us it would have been better for government to work with commodity organisations. These organisations know their industries and members best… They know what the farmers need.”
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