Call for drought relief probe

Agri SA asks protector to look into how funds were spent

Unknown service providers assisting distressed farmers and erratic expenditure of allocated funds are just some of the concerns Agri SA has asked the public protector and auditorgeneral (AG) to look into.

This comes after Agri SA’s own investigation into the government’s drought relief efforts left them with more questions than answers.

Farmers across the county are still in the throes of the worst drought South Africa has experienced in decades, resulting in severe grain shortages, forced livestock sales, livestock losses and a devastating impact on their financial stability.

Speaking at a press briefing in Pretoria yesterday, Agri SA executive director Omri van Zyl said their investigation into the spending of the government’s drought relief money left them with more questions than answers, and they hoped the public protector and AG could provide some clarity.

“The public protector has accepted our report and will take the matter further. Now we can do nothing but wait and see what comes of it,” Van Zyl said.

According to its report, money was wasted through the appointment of service providers who knew very little or nothing about agriculture.

Some of these service providers, appointed to supply and transport feed to struggling livestock farmers, were listed as cleaning and construction companies.

In the Eastern Cape, a company by the name of Cropland Agricultural Equipment, based in Gauteng, was contracted to deliver feed to farmers.

However, Van Zyl said no information could be found on the company.

A Legal City search showed that Cropland Agricultural Equipment was in the process of being deregistered.

Attempts to contact the company’s director, Gershom Ramazan, were unsuccessful.

In some provinces, the wrong feed was delivered to farmers, while feed was found dumped in the Free State.

Agri SA further claimed feed prices were inflated to benefit the service providers and departmental officials took some of the feed for themselves.

Despite R265-million spent by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform on relief programmes‚ farmers have told devastating stories of how they had received only enough feed to feed their livestock for one day.

“We are in the agriculture sector and know most of the usual service providers,” Van Zyl said.

“We found it surprising that none of the names on the list looked familiar to us. Some of them are listed as cleaning companies while others we could find no information about.”

Red Meat Producers Organisation Eastern Cape chairman Francois du Toit said they were supporting Agri SA’s efforts to track the relief funds as cattle farmers were some of the worst affected in the province.

“Last year this time farmers were already holding back 20% of their stock to try and limit expenses as the drought continued,” he said.

“Later they were forced to sell off cattle to stay afloat, and now they will struggle even more to recover as they will need new cattle to replenish their stock.”

Du Toit said the farmers’ struggle would have a knock-on effect that reached all the way to the consumer.

“We have seen meat prices go up greatly because the farmers are struggling to supply the butchers and supermarkets.

“By keeping drought relief money from commercial cattle farmers, the government has effectively taken money out of the consumers’ pockets.”

According to Du Toit and Agri EC head of natural resources Brent McNamara, the only assistance commercial farmers received was one load of feed, bought with money the provincial Department of Rural Development managed to re-purpose from its own budget.

“But from the national government we never received anything,” McNamara said.

Agri SA’s report stated that the Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries allocated R212-million for drought relief‚ of which only R146.2-million was spent.

At the same time, the Department of Water and Sanitation allocated R341.3-million in drought relief funds and overspent by R48.4-million, while Rural Development and Land Reform allocated R463.6-million and underspent by R144.8-million.

Van Zyl also said they were surprised to discover that R290.7-million of government funds were spent on a desalination plant in Richards Bay, when drought relief assistance was more pressing.

According to the Agri SA report, 90% of the funds spent from the R212-million went to subsistence farmers. Less than 10% went to emerging farmers, while little or no funds went to commercial farmers.

Van Zyl said one of their main concerns was how the R212-million was allocated and why some provinces benefited more than others.- Additional reporting TMG Digital

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