The farmers’ union the TLU SA on Monday evening expressed its displeasure at government continually “disregarding commercial farmers when offering financial aid”.
Earlier in the day, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza announced that her department had allocated aid in the amount of R1.2 billion for small-scale farmers (with an annual turnover of between R50,000 and R1 million) to offset some of the economic upheaval caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Women and young farmers, as well as farmers with disabilities, would also be prioritised, she said, and only specific commodity sectors would be able to qualify to apply for funding.
“It is deplorable that commercial farmers get the short end of the stick again,” said Louis Meintjes, the president of TLU SA. “Despite the vital role they play in producing food – in so doing preventing food shortages and subsequent anarchy. How must we motivate the commercial farmer to continue with vital production despite the risk of exposure to the coronavirus when the government never assists them in any manner?”
The union pointed out that about 70% of South Africans were urbanised and dependent on commercial farmers to produce food for the country.
According to the latest Agricultural Census, the subsistence farmers who would stand to benefit from the government assistance supplied only 1.9% of the country’s food.
“Commercial farmers, the country’s biggest asset, continue to be beset by crime and farm murders during the lockdown period,” said Meintjes. “Our safety patrols are locked down and we have to look to the overburdened SA Police Service – who do not have the capacity right now – for protection. Yet the farmers continue with their daily tasks. They deserve better.”
The union said agriculture could make a difference and this was the ideal opportunity for government bodies tasked with these programmes to reach out to agricultural organisations to determine what commercial farmers needed and how the government could assist.
(Edited by Charles Cilliers)