Farmers sceptical about government flood help

Recent promises of flood assistance worth nearly R150 million have been met with scepticism by affected farmers.

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Recent promises of flood assistance worth nearly R150 million have been met with scepticism by affected farmers.

Pravin Gordhan, minister of finance, announced in his medium-term budget policy statement last month that he had made an extra R150 million available to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to assist farmers affected by flooding at the beginning of the year.

But Hoffie Joubert, chairperson of Agri Northern Cape’s irrigation and water affairs committee, expressed serious doubts about the allocation. “President Jacob Zuma announced R800 million for flood damage in February.

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Minister Gordhan announced a further R600 million two weeks later, followed by an announcement of R250 million from minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Not a cent has been realised so far. It seems to me very much like a political announcement to canvass votes,” he said.

Joubert added that flood damage in Northern Cape totalled R932 million. “Nearly 30% of the commercial farmers who were hit by the floods won’t be able to continue farming,” he said.“This means the loss of thousands of job opportunities for farm workers and an enormous impact on food security.Northern Cape is a major producer of crops, including wheat, onions, potatoes and grapes.
“The socio-economic impact is massive. Alcoholism is a very serious problem in Northern Cape and one shudders to think what the consequences of the large scale of job losses will be.”

Agri SA/Toyota SA Young Farmer of the Year for 2011, Gog van der Colff, who farms near Upington, said he hoped the process of applying for flood relief would be streamlined. “It is virtually impossible for the farmer to access funds that have been made available by the IDC (Industrial Development Corporation), for instance,” he said.

Cor Janse van Vuuren, president of Agri North West, was even more blunt. “Too little, too late,” he said. “It shows a lack of respect for commercial farmers. The flood-stricken farmers needed the money shortly after the floods. Since then, the cost has escalated dramatically.

“Government apparently doesn’t realise the vital role of commercial farmers. For instance, we were promised R30 million government support after the devastating wildfires in North West. Nothing has come of it and we were left to our own devices. “I’m concerned that may also be the case as far as flood damage support is concerned.”

At the time of going to print, DAFF hasn’t responded yet. – Annelie Coleman

Flood damage in the Douglas area of Northern Cape at the beginning of the year was extensive.