Call to in­ves­ti­gate the R2.5bn drought re­lief fund

The Star Early Edition - - COMPANIES - Bloomberg

SOUTH African farm­ers called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how R2.5 bil­lion of gov­ern­ment funds ear­marked for drought re­lief last year was spent, af­ter many com­mer­cial farms re­ceived no state help.

Only R1bn was al­lo­cated to gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, of which about 85 per­cent was spent dur­ing a pe­riod in which six of the coun­try’s nine prov­inces were de­clared dis­as­ter ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to re­search from Agri SA. Of the R1bn, just 0.24 per­cent went to com­mer­cial farm­ers and much of the money was wasted on in­ex­pe­ri­enced dis­tri­bu­tion com­pa­nies and over­priced feed and bore­holes, the farm­ers’ group said.

“This is a warn­ing shot, a flag go­ing up to say we need to in­ves­ti­gate these things,” Omri Van Zyl, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Agri SA, said on Thurs­day in Cen­tu­rion. “We need a proper de­liv­ery sys­tem to help us in such a cri­sis.”

‘If that R212m was spent cor­rectly we could have helped twice the num­ber of farm­ers that we did.’

South Africa ex­pe­ri­enced the worst drought in more than a cen­tury in 2015 and the dry weather con­tin­ued in 2016, push­ing up food prices and hurt­ing small-scale and com­mer­cial farm­ers. Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma said in his State of the Na­tion Ad­dress on Fe­bru­ary 9 that the gov­ern­ment made R2.5bn avail­able for live­stock feed, water in­fra­struc­ture and auc­tion sales. Agri SA has asked the Public Pro­tec­tor and Au­di­tor Gen­eral to in­ves­ti­gate and wants the coun­try to de­velop a na­tional ac­tion plan to deal with drought.

The De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries (Daff) will co-op­er­ate with any in­quiry and will work with Agri SA to find out where the money was spent, act­ing spokesper­son Steve Galane said. The Daff al­lo­cated R212 mil­lion for drought-re­lief mea­sures, but only spent R146m, 90 per­cent of which went to sub­sis­tence farm­ers, Agri SA said. Sev­eral in­ex­pe­ri­enced lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies were pro­cured at high cost by local gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to dis­trib­ute an­i­mal feed when its mem­bers were will­ing to do the job for free or be­low cost, the group said.

“If that R212m was spent cor­rectly we could have helped twice the num­ber of farm­ers that we did,” said Dan Kriek, Agri SA’s vice pres­i­dent.

Heavy rain across most prov­inces this year and the end of 2016 has given farm­ers re­lief from the drought and the coun­try’s Crop Es­ti­mates Com­mit­tee is fore­cast­ing a record maize crop. How­ever, the drought still per­sists in the North­ern and Western Cape prov­inces. – Bloomberg

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