In her budget vote earlier in the week, the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza delivered a sombre budget vote via Zoom.
Cuts across all government programmes focussed on smallholder farmers were dealt a heavy blow. Food Security had cuts of R939 million, Land Redistribution and Tenure Reform R544 million and Land Restitution R403 million respectively.
“The greatest portion of the cuts of R1.89 billion within the Department was in the programmes that deliver on Food Security, Land Redistribution and Restitution. These programmes are core to achieving outcomes in food security and achieving economic transformation priority through redress and equitable access to producer support” said the Minister.
Initially, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) budget announced by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni was R16.8 billion and was readjusted to R14.4 billion during the Supplementary Budget on 24 June 2020.
Earlier in June, DALRRD executives appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, virtually acknowledging that the department had missed its targets in supporting smallholder farmer beneficiaries.
“For number of farmers supported through the Land Development Support (LDS) programme, DRDLR supported 52 instead of 162 farmers. And for the “One Hectare, One Household” programme, DRDLR missed its target; DRDLR supported 53 instead of 2 656 households” in response to Parliament grilling.
Overall, the said missed targets by 87% had placed concern on the bloated structure of the merged departments as compared to cutting farmer programmes. The current salary bill of the department amounted to R4,44 billion which was reduced to R300 million in the budget vote.
“This is the elephant in the room which the government refuses to address. The government’s inability to cut its salary bill and its continued focus on welfare interventions rather than on unlocking wealth-creating opportunities, will cost us dearly” said Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA, Deputy Executive Director.
Provincial Departments of Agriculture were also not spared from the Ministers revolving ire. These departments were also notorious for underspending on conditional grants.
“The Ilima/Letsema and Comprehensive Agriculture Support Programme (CASP) budget readjustments will mean that for the 2020/2021, provinces will receive lesser allocations for producer support for production and infrastructure. Provinces will therefore need to reprioritize projects for this financial year” she added.