Just another election promise?

A new government project pledges relief for rural farmers. Will this join the other failed initiatives?

The story of government’s plan to implement the Animal and Veld Management Programme (AVMP) appeared in Farmer’s Weekly of 11 October. Within days, I was being bombarded with telephone calls and emails from communal farmers. Like me, they were excited about the news, and many wanted to find out how soon the programme would be implemented and what the selection criteria for beneficiaries would be.

At the recent National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation’s (Nerpo) AGM, Minister Gugile Nkwinti announced that his department was very close to implementing this programme. He said that it would benefit not only farmers, but also the environment, as it aimed to rehabilitate communal lands. According to Nkwinti, government was planning to move farmers off communal land and onto state land through the programme, in an effort to ease congestion in those areas that are under pressure.

Following years of drought and recent livestock deaths, many areas, such as those in North West and Limpopo, need to be rested. There have long been calls for something to be done about the situation due to the considerable numbers of smallholder farmers involved.

Several years ago, Nerpo stated that more than 70% of smallholder farmers in South Africa were farming on communal land, but the number could well be higher. The figure of 70% refers to farmers who have formalised their farming activities to some extent. It may be higher if one counts all the people involved in farming activities and running a few head of livestock.
Judging by this information, and the enquiries I’ve already received, I can only imagine how important this programme will be. I therefore hope that government also understands the need to implement it swiftly.

Serious doubts
But to be honest, I have my reservations. I think we should be careful about getting too enthusiastic about what we see happening around us, as well as the promises that politicians make in the year before general elections. If you take a drive through poorer communities, you will see all kinds of projects underway at the moment. If it’s not a pavement being constructed or repaired, it’s RDP houses being built.

One has to ask: why now?

Empty campaign promises?

Thabo Motiang, a farmer who sent me an email asking for more details about this programme, has been farming cattle on communal land. “I have been struggling to find suitable land, and I welcome the idea,” he says. “However, my experience has been that government always has grand ideas, which in the end, fizzle out to nothing.” Unfortunately, many other people feel exactly like this. They have lost faith in the government. How serious is Nkwinti about this programme? Will this become yet another empty promise made by yet another politician, just to score a few points in an attempt to secure more votes in the upcoming election?