In 2018/2019, the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries under Section 5 of the Money Bills and Related Matters Act recommended for the intervention of the Minister of Finance to provide additional funding to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC).
“With the challenges that the sector is currently contending with, the collapse of the entity will be costly and risky to agricultural development, innovation and growth,” said the portfolio committee to Treasury.
The outbreak of the FMD nearly broke down cooperation between government and the red meat industry as a result of the unavailability of vaccines.
“The reality is that the outbreak and the economic consequences thereof on the agricultural industry could have been dramatically minimized had we had a fully operational FMD vaccine facility,” said the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Earlier, in response to the parliamentary question posed by the DA on the matter, the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza said the facility would be completed by 2025.
In 2010, the ARC was identified as one of government infrastructure programme beneficiaries under Strategic Integrated Projects (SIP 11) to receive R188 million to build an FMD facility together with Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP).
“On the conditional grant of R188 million, the ARC had given a proposal on the capability of the ARC to develop the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) vaccine. National Treasury had allocated it a grant to develop new technology for the vaccine, as well as for the necessary skills that would go through to production” said ARC President Dr Shadrack Moephuli in response to the Portfolio Committee seating of October 2019.
National Treasury said it was aware of the important role played by ARC in contributing to research and development, however, it declined to allocate additional funding due to ‘constrained fiscal outlook.’
Minister Thoko Didiza went on further assure that the ARC would receive a proportional grant out of the R480 million budget allocated to the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD) in order to complete the FMD facility.
The facility is expected to enhance the country’s vaccine research capacity and ensure there is a secure supply of the vaccine.
Due to its enormous mandate and responsibilities, the Portfolio Committee described ARC as too a strategic and important institution to collapse. If not fully funded, “South Africa will be forced to depend on privately-funded and international agricultural research innovations.”