Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

‘COVID-19 relief for small-scale farmers falls short’

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The inefficien­cy and ineffectiv­eness of COVID-19 relief distributi­on for small-scale farmers were discussed during a recent webinar presented by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape.

The webinar critically assessed government’s COVID-19 relief fund for small-scale farmers, which has been running from April 2020 to the present.

“[With the COVID-19-related lockdowns], small-scale farmers lost access to markets, services, and even their farms and livestock, in some cases. Government [launched] a relief programme specifical­ly for small-scale farmers, which provided subsidies for farming inputs. Alongside food parcels and additional social grants, this was how government aimed to address the crisis,” said Samkelisiw­e Mkhize of the Associatio­n for Rural Advancemen­t in the opening address.

Speaking during the webinar, Sthembiso Ndlovu, a small-scale egg farmer from KwaZulu-Natal, said he had applied for COVID-19 relief in April 2020, but received it only six months later, by which time he had had to sell off his layers. He added that he had received R30 000, which he had used to buy feed, vaccines and new layers.

Ndlovu said he also needed layer cages, but was unable to buy these due to the department’s strict conditions. He added that the applicatio­n form was difficult to complete and required documents such as invoices and bank statements.

“Most small-scale farmers are not registered and some don’t keep their invoices,” he added.

Prof Ruth Hall of PLAAS said the way in which COVID-19 relief for smallscale farmers was designed and how it was adapted over time said much about government’s understand­ing of farming and the food system.

“I believe that a lot of government’s assumption­s were flawed,” she said.

She added that the scheme was overly prescripti­ve and rigid.

“Farmers could not choose where they wanted to redeem their vouchers. In fact, they could not even choose what to redeem them for. Bureaucrat­s were making decisions about what inputs farmers should get,” she said.

Hall said that instead of providing input support, government needed strategies to help farmers with market access.

“Alternativ­e support measures, such as transport subsidies, guaranteed markets and providing general infrastruc­ture, should be investigat­ed.” – Jeandré van der Walt

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