Minister Tina Joemat-Petersson should have met with parliament’s energy oversight committee last week, but cancelled at the last minute, sending her deputy director-general instead. Neither he nor the committee had time to prepare (the committee received the documents just hours before the meeting).
The energy department is struggling to finalise legislation on biofuels. Millions of rands have been invested by companies in preparation for producing biofuels and millions more could have been flowing into rural communities by now. I can appreciate the workload of government departments but when deadlines are constantly postponed, one can understand why our economy is in dire straits.
Ironically, SA scientists have contributed to the development of biofuel technology, yet we are years behind the rest of the world in reaping the benefits. While in France with a group of Farmer’s Weekly readers, we visited a biofuel plant built on a farm with the aid of the government and investors. Plant residue, crops and cattle dung are all converted into biofuel to run machinery. It also turns the biofuel into bio-methane which is injected into the national gas grid.
Neighbouring farms deposit their farm waste and plans are in place to process agro-processing waste from nearby Paris. One can only be amazed. The project is one of many funded from a budget set aside specifically to assist what the French call ‘young farmers’.
As elsewhere, the age of the average French farmer is increasing. One out of two farmers who retire is not being replaced. The country’s solution is to give young farmers subsidised loans. The government has set aside €50 million (R661 million) per year for this.
In the previous financial year, DAFF allocated R2,4 billion towards CASP, Ilima/Letsema and LandCare, funding mechanisms for emerging farmers, yet we can show very little for it. DAFF admitted it had not reached its targets due to funding constraints and lack of internal control measures. And budgets are being cut.
Grain SA’s request to government to subsidise crop insurance for drought-stricken farmers will thus most likely never be realised. Farmers can ill- afford crop insurance, but the banks will be reluctant to fund production loans for next season without it. Like all business owners, farmers must spend money to make money, but with rising income tax, a hike in the fuel price and the increasing cost of living, capital is in short supply.
So when investors stand ready to invest in alternative energy projects like biofuel, shouldn’t government do everything in its power to get the ball rolling?