In order to further support smallholder and communal farmers during the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform (agriculture department) is working on plans to open a second application window for funding.

This was according to Mdu Shabane, the department’s director-general, who briefed members of the agriculture portfolio committee on the 2020/2024 strategic plan and the annual performance plan on Wednesday.

The department had already established a R1,2 billion COVID-19 disaster fund to assist smallholder and communal farmers. According to Shabane, the department received about 55 000 applications during the application window from 8 April to 22 April.

“Once we have concluded the evaluation of the 55 000 applications we have received in the current window of applications, we will consider opening the second window for other categories of farmers,” he explained.

The categories of farmers that will be included in a possible second round of applications were smallholder sugar cane farmers, wool producers, and other smallholder farmers in the former homelands and in townships.

Shabane pointed out that in the townships, the department would specifically seek to support household food gardens with inputs such as seeds and fertiliser. He stressed that the department would not become involved in providing food parcels.

“We will be providing inputs to assist communities to plant and produce food for themself.”

It remained unclear whether any support would be provided to commercial farmers as part of the agriculture department’s COVID-19 relief efforts. A question that addressed this matter, raised by Tamarin Breedt, Freedom Front Plus MP, was left unanswered during the meeting.

Democratic Alliance MP, Annette Steyn, who posed the same question during the meeting, told Farmer’s Weekly that she had a “strong suspicion” that no support would be offered by the department to support white commercial farmers affected by the pandemic.

She explained that black commercial farmers were, however, eligible for assistance via the agriculture department’s Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS). The PLAS programme had been allocated a R400 million share of the department’s R1,2 billion relief funding package.

Shabane added that the department also intended to increase the capacity of the Farmer Production Support Unit (FPSU), a smallholder farmer outreach and capacity building unit, that helped link farmers with markets.

“We intend to make sure that at least 27 of these units will be fully functional and operational during [the course of] this financial year.”

 

Farmer’s Weekly | Jeandré van der Walt |