Agriculture, land reform & rural development minister Thoko Didiza announces interventions in the agricultural sector to ensure continued production of food, during Covid-19 and beyond, during a virtual media briefing at Tshedimosetso House in Pretoria on April 6 2020. Picture: GCIS/KOPANO TLAPE
Agriculture, land reform & rural development minister Thoko Didiza announces interventions in the agricultural sector to ensure continued production of food, during Covid-19 and beyond, during a virtual media briefing at Tshedimosetso House in Pretoria on April 6 2020. Picture: GCIS/KOPANO TLAPE

Distressed farmers are set to receive government grants in the coming weeks to help them through the coronavirus crisis, agriculture, land reform & rural development minister Thoko Didiza announced on Monday.

The department has ring-fenced R1.2bn for assistance mainly to target financially distressed small-scale farmers. Of the R1.2bn, R400m has been allocated for farmers in the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy programme. These are the beneficiaries of the government land acquisition model under land redistribution. The remainder will be channelled to all other farmers mainly in the poultry, livestock, vegetable farming sectors.

“Other commodity sectors will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as the department continuously monitors the impact of Covid-19 on the sector at large,” Didiza said.

The coronavirus has left the global economy reeling and stocks plummeting amid fears of a jobs bloodbath. The pandemic has also led to a decline in Asia’s agriculture demand and falling agricultural commodity prices.

SA’s agricultural sector could lose as much as R42bn in export revenue due to the outbreak, as key trading partners limit business activity to curb the spread of the disease.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation highlights that transport restrictions and quarantine measures are likely to impede small and large scale farmers' access to input and output markets, curbing productive capacities. Shortages of labour caused by the virus could also disrupt production and processing of food.

In a bid to slow the spread of the virus, President Cyril Ramaphosa, like many of his counterparts across the world, announced a 21-day lockdown, which is due to end on April 16. However, indications are that it could be extended.

Didiza said the support availed to the agricultural sector was in part to ensure that there is access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for the country.

She said the support would be reserved for SA citizens or permanent residents who have been actively farming for a minimum of 12 months and currently in the production season or cycle; and smallholder farmers with annual turnover between R50,000 and R1m.

“The adjudication will prioritise women, youth and people with disabilities. [Those seeking to apply for assistance] should also be registered on farmer register, commodity database or provincial database [those who are not on the farmer register will be registered to benefit],” Didiza said, adding that communal farmers will also be prioritised.

“Mechanisation, infrastructure and overhead costs will not be supported. This is not comprehensive support but intervention package amid Covid-19. Farmers who are preparing for the 2020 summer production season will not be supported. The aim is to provide immediate to near-term support to smallholder farmers currently affected by Covid-19,” the minister said.

She said farmers who are currently receiving support through other programmes run by the government and its entities are also excluded, and the grant cannot be used to pay debts. It can only be used for production purposes such as feed, fertilisers pesticides, herbicides and soil correction.

The applications for funding will be open from April 8 and will close on April 22.

“No late entries will be accepted. Application forms will be available on April 8 2020 on the departmental website — www.dalrrd.gov.za — and through national, provincial, district and local offices of both the national department of agriculture, land reform & rural development and provincial departments of agriculture.

“Applications will be lodged electronically at applications@dalrrd.gov.za or submitted to the offices as outlined.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

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