(Budget vote debate in parliament: Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Devopment)
It is difficult to put this politely, but the Department of Agriculture is busy blundering about and is toying with the future of farmers and the people of South Africa.
Food security and domestic food security are buzz words in the era of Covid-19. And the Department loves these words.
One would think, therefore, that in the current context the Department would prioritise just that. However, in light of the present famine brought on by the pandemic, the stagnating budget growth for food security is a real cause for concern.
Although the Department has a mandate to implement the national food security plan, it has no framework nor did it set any targets against which food security can be measured. Against this sombre backdrop, how will we ever succeed in ensuring food security and, in particular, domestic food security?
Approximately 52% of the budget is allocated to provinces in the form of transfers and subsidies. Audits have, however, found again and again that these funds are mostly misappropriated without any accountability.
Despite the central role that the Department ought to play in agricultural production, biosecurity and the management of agricultural disasters, this programme was allocated only about 15% if the Department's total budget.
The inclusion of the new field of biosecurity as a subprogramme is welcomed, but the meagre budget allocation of R3,3 million is alarming.
Given the recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease as well as swine and bird flu, revenue losses and the impact thereof on critical agricultural sectors warrant serious consideration. It also has a significant impact on job creation in the agricultural sector. In light of this, the allocation to biosecurity falls short.
The Department's preparedness to reduce the impact of natural disasters linked to climate change by mitigating the effects on rural and agricultural regions is also unsatisfactory.
Just think what the Department could do for biosecurity and climate change if it would stop wasting money on projects that do not work and if it stopped transferring money to the provinces, where it just gets stolen.
When Minister Thoko Didiza was appointed as the Minister of Agriculture at the opening of the sixth Parliament, she was not met with the usual contempt that ministers often face because agriculture, in all its forms, respected her for her first term of office as Agriculture Minister.
It is time for the Minister to stand up for agriculture, and not only for today, but also for the future of agriculture, food security and South Africa on the whole.
Stand up, stand together and stand strong because a nation that cherishes agriculture, cherishes its future.