#YAFF SHOCKER: A year later, still no prize money for top farmers

Pictured from the left are award-winning agriculturists Wayne Mansfield, Siphesihle Kwetana and Edward Kgarose who say they are disappointed in the way government has treated them since they were announced as YAFF winners. Pictures: Supplied

More than a year after government announced the winners of a competition aimed at acknowledging the work of exceptional young farmers, some awardees have still not received their prize money.

The winners have now turned to Food For Mzansi for help, saying that they’ve been “disillusioned and cheated” by the 2019 Youth in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Awards (also known as the YAFF Awards). They allege that they were publicly celebrated as winners, but never rewarded, as promised.

Last year the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (DAFF) invited stakeholders in the sector to nominate top young producers in agriculture, forestry and fisheries to enter for the YAFF Awards.

At the time of the awards in question, DAFF was led by minister Senzeni Zokwana. DAFF was since restructured in June 2019 by pres. Cyril Ramaphosa to the new department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD) under the leadership of a new minister, Thoko Didiza.

Siphesihle Kwetana on her 85 hectare farm in Qumbu Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied

In June last year, during a glitzy awards ceremony in Port Elizabeth, government recognised eight of South Africa’s top young farmers. Winners were awarded with a cash prize of between R50 000 and R200 000, depending on the different categories.

Prior to the YAFF Awards, hundreds of nominated producers undergo an intensive screening and verification process in which applications are trimmed down to three entries per category.

Subsequent to the event, winners were supposed to receive their monies, however some claim they have only been met with excuses from the department concerning their prize money. While some awardees have indeed received their cash money, others are wondering why they are being treated differently.

“I’ve already decided that I want nothing to do with the money. I know the money is owed to me, but how long must I still wait?” – WAYNE MANSFIELD

Siphesihle Kwetana (25), an Eastern Cape farmer, was awarded in the smallholder category for agriculture. Her prize consisted of a trophy, certificate and a R100 000 cash prize of which she has only received R50 000 – the portion given by the sponsors, with government being responsible for the balance.

Kwetana is the director of Siphe Development and Capacitation Agency and produces vegetables for various retailers in the Eastern Cape. She does this on her two farms in Qumbu and Mthatha.

The young farmer says she was filled with excitement when she was nominated and planned to expand her farming operations with the cash prize. This was a big chance to start a nursery project and also buy a new delivery van for her agribusiness.

When Kwetana enquired why she had not received the outstanding money owed to her, she was informed that there were no funds to do so.

Deputy director-general of food security and agrarian reform, Andile Hawes, in September 2019 issued a letter, seen by Food For Mzansi, to disappointed farmers in which he confesses that government struggled to solicit sponsorship for certain categories. He further writes that National Treasury had prohibited them to pay prize money from their reserves due to budgetary constraints at the time.

Instead of a cash payout, winners would be issued with vouchers equivalent to the value of their prize. Kwetana says, “My question is, why did the department treat me differently? The rest of the winners got their money and I’m still waiting. It’s the same awards, but the rules changed for me.”

Attempts at gaining access to the promised vouchers also never materialised. “Even when I mailed them the list of things that I needed they took forever, so I cancelled it and bought it myself. I sent them a new list before winter and I’m still waiting.”

‘Our winnings are losing value’

Molatelo Edward Kgarose, an agripreneur from Limpopo better known as Edward, also reached out to Food For Mzansi saying the department’s alleged injustice is costing him dearly. For him, his R100 000 cash prize has now lost its value.

The owner of Kgarose Kgaros says the inputs and equipment he planned on buying with the award money cost him more than what it did in 2019.

“You will no longer be able to buy what you were looking for because everything is going up. Instead of buying five things, you’ll only be able to afford three now. And the longer we wait, the less value our winnings will have,” he sighs.

Kgarose also does not understand how the rules could be changed after the competition and why he must be content with vouchers. “I did not win a grant or a voucher. I won hard cash. Cash that I planned to use in growing my business and increasing production capacity.”

Also, what puzzles Kgarose the most is how the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development could release R1 billion for covid-19 relief, while he and other winners of the 2019 YAFF Awards are still waiting for their cash.

“My R100 000 is still hanging somewhere. So, when I see the minister making statements saying that she’ll put an end to the barriers in agriculture and address them, it’s hard to believe,” Kgarose says.

Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, in June this year, once again, during a virtual summit on agriculture prospects and opportunities pledged that structural constraints and barriers affecting the sector would be addressed. However, agriculturalists are not convinced.

Read: Agriculture industry barriers will be removed – Didiza

Edward Kgarose (30) is the creative mind behind his agribusiness, Kgarose Kgaros (Pty) LTD, which produces sweet potato yogurt.

After much back and forth, and great desperation, Kgarose finally agreed to let the department buy implements and equipment on his behalf. The department then advertised his specifications for bidders. However, significant markups were added which far surpassed the prize value.

“They told me that my purchase had to amount to R80 000 so that the suppliers could get their profit. They basically told me that I had to share R20 000 of my winnings with the supplier,” he states.

After refusing to accept this deal, Kgarose asked for his money in full. This time around he was told that this was not the prescribed procedure. The entrepreneur is yet to receive the implements order or the prize money.

‘Seriously how long must I still wait?’

Wayne Mansfield, who won in the commercial agriculture category, has lost hope that he will ever see his winnings. “I’ve already decided that I want nothing to do with the money. I know the money is owed to me, but seriously how long must I still wait?”

Wayne Mansfield also won the 2018 Western Cape New Entrant to Commercial Agriculture Award just three years after he started farming with lemons. Photo: Supplied

Last year, Mansfield experienced a tough farming season in September and needed the R200 000 cash prize which came with the national recognition. He says he was also disappointed to learn that the department would do purchases on behalf of farmers.

He tells Food For Mzansi, “In farming you have to be quick. If I need fertilizer, I need it now. I can’t wait for two months because then it will be too late. My business can only be successful if I do things on time.”

He recently asked an extension officer to enquire if the money was still available because he needed to buy a new tractor. “I just feel they should advertise the YAFF awards better, instead of getting our hopes up. It’s like false advertising.”

“Even as the national Youth Farmer of the Year government has failed to assist me to grow.” – Siphesihle Kwetana

Meanwhile, Kwetana showed Food For Mzansi a letter she wrote to Didiza. She raises her concerns along with a number of other issues the farmer says have plagued her career as a young woman in agriculture.

She lists non-existent support from the department for land and farm inputs, departmental officials who make inappropriate sexual advances to her, and being declined in her covid-19 relief application despite being tax compliant and a year ago being good enough for national recognition.

Kwetana says it has been very difficult for her in the sector. “Even as the national Youth Farmer of the Year, the department has failed to assist me to grow. Why? What do I have to do? Send my pictures?”

The heartbroken farmer adds, “I get calls and interviews from many media outlets (about my success) and I always lie, as if things were ok, but they are not. Being young and female is a disadvantage in agriculture.”