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Agriculture forestry & Fisheries Budget Vote Debate by Chairperson Machwene Rosina Semenya

22 April 2016

The people of South Africa are celebrating Freedom month during April 2016 wherein we also celebrating 22 years of our hard-won constitutional democracy. It is in essence the celebration of the sterling leadership of the African National Congress shown throughout the long and difficult years during the struggle for liberation as well as through the transitioning period into our constitutional democracy. It is also the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Women's March to the Union Buildings in protest of the dehumanising pass laws of the apartheid government. The recollections of our history are a true testament to the resilience of our people, and the commitment of the African National Congress towards building better communities for our people.

The Portfolio Committee notes that the drought impact has been devastating for the agriculture sector and even more so for many smallholder farmers. It is against this backdrop that the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries tabled the 2016/17 Annual Performance Plan of the Department. It is absolutely critical for the Department to refocus its efforts on supporting farmers, farm workers and farm dwellers in terms of the post drought recovery plan that will ensure South Africa's food security status, both nationally and at the household level. Within the southern Africa Region, South Africa plays a crucial role through its grain exports to Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland. It is also for this reason that the plans of the Department should be responsive to agricultural production shortfalls that might be experienced in the region. Further, the Department should make concerted efforts in supporting subsistence and smallholder production as this is crucial in the revitalisation and transformation of the agriculture sector.

Though the Department has had its budget cut by R65.7 million in nominal terms for the 2016/17 financial year, the Portfolio Committee urges the Department to refocus its activities on high impact projects that will grow the economy, create jobs and ensure food security in line with the policy priorities outlined in the NDP, MTSF, and SONA. It is important for the House to be cognisant of the impact that the reduction in the budget of the Department will have on its ability to deliver of the targets outlined in the MTSF for the period leading up to 2019, particularly in its contribution to reduce the number of households that are vulnerable to hunger and bringing one million hectares of underutilised land into production under the Fetsa Tlala Food Production Initiative.

The Portfolio Committee also welcomes establishment of a coordinating task team lead by the office of the Deputy President that will coordinate and streamline all food security initiatives in South Africa. It is with such institutional arrangements that the strategic role of agriculture in food security initiatives will be effectively coordinated amongst all stakeholders in order to realise the NDP targets of domestic production of our food surplus. The Portfolio Committee welcomes the plans underway to hold Operation Phakisa for the agriculture sector as this effort will seek to strategically locate the agriculture sector within the broader economy in order to deal with the contribution of the sector to job creation, poverty and inequality reduction.

The radical socio-economic transformation programme of the ANC's manifesto finds expression in the revitalisation of the agriculture sector and the agro-processing value chain. Furthermore, the 2014-2019 Medium Term Strategic Framework mandates the Department to focus on ensuring that the number of households that are vulnerable to hunger is reduced drastically to below 9.5 per cent of the total population.

The National Development Plan (NDP) clearly outlines the role that the agriculture and agro-processing sectors ought to play in the revitalisation of the rural economy. These imperatives are expressed in the annual plans of the Department through the Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP), which incorporates the Fetsa Tlala Food Production Initiative as well as the 9 agricultural and agro-processing value chains. The APAP interventions seek to create 63 000 jobs by 2019 through partnerships with public and private sector investment in the sector. To boost domestic food production and reduce reliance on food imports, the Fetsa Tlala initiative aims to bring an additional one million hectares into cultivation by 2019, creating an additional 300 000 jobs.

The Department has planned to support 145 000 subsistence and smallholder farmers, and bring 120 000 hectares of underutilised land to cultivation in communal areas and also to support 10 000 smallholder farmers through the Retail Emerging Market division of the Land and Agriculture Bank of South Africa.

The Portfolio Committee welcomes the roll-out of the long awaited compulsory community service for veterinarians and the delivery of mobile clinics to provinces. The Portfolio Committee however, was disappointed that the deployment of students did not focus on rural areas in provinces that have the greatest potential and need for livestock development.

The PC also wishes to congratulate the Agriculture Research Council (ARC) in its ground-breaking work on the development of a heartwater vaccine as well as the drought tolerant maize seed. These developments will prove to be a game-changer for South African producers, and could greatly improve access to lucrative export markets.

During the 2016/17 financial year, the Department plans to develop the smallholder producer support policy which seeks to create norms and standards; and as such harmonise the comprehensive producer support that is offered by government to the different categories of farmers. It is important that the type of support offered to smallholder farmers is aligned to the intended objectives that seek to enhance access to support services, increase agricultural production, and expand income opportunities for beneficiaries. This is truly a long awaited development in order to ensure that South African smallholder farmers are supported in a holistic manner that will drive the realisation of the NDP targets.

The loss of agricultural land poses a direct threat to national food security, increases rural unemployment, and diminishes the positive link between agriculture and rural development. The change in land use patterns from agriculture to non-agricultural uses (such as mining, urban, infrastructure and residential development) on high and medium potential agricultural land has been alarmingly increasing In response to this challenge, the Department needs to fast-track the development of the Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land Framework (PDALF) Bill which is aimed at addressing the loss of prime agricultural land to other sectors during the 2016/17 financial year.

The fisheries sector faces a variety of complex challenges ranging from vertical integration monopoly to the effects of climate change. At this juncture, most of the economically important fisheries resources are reported to be maximally utilised, thus leaving very little room to accommodate the previously excluded communities. Notwithstanding these challenges, the the Minister Zokwana is spending more effort and resources on getting the previously excluded fishing communities to participate meaningfully in the sector.

The Portfolio Committee is fully aware that the fisheries resources are finite, hence is supportive of efforts to tap into other avenues to increase the socio-economic impact of the fishing sector. The strategies implemented across various fisheries sectors are yielding the desired recovery of certain fish stocks to be ecologically sustainable.

In line with the NDP, during 2015/16 Department broadened fisheries opportunities beyond what was currently exploited, by advancing access to the fishery of tuna and tuna-like species. The Department has since secured South Africa's permanent member status as opposed to being a Cooperating non-Contracting Party in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. As a permanent Member under the IOTC and CCSBT, the country will now enjoy voting rights and can influence discussions and decisions on total allowable catches that were limited to full Members. The Department is encouraged to focus on negotiating a higher total allowable catch (TAC) that is fair and equitable - more than the current 150 tons. A higher TAC in the tuna fishery would stimulate more interest and investment into this sector, thus broaden the scope for more job creation and economic contribution.

The 2016/17 Annual Performance Plans are tabled at the time when the Department is in the middle of the most important fisheries transformation process of fishing rights allocation. The Department will not only allocate fishing rights to the 10 commercial fisheries and fish processing establishments that mainly expired in 2015, but also small-scale fishers. This FRAP 2015/16 is bolstered by the conclusion of the FRAP 2013 appeals. It is particularly exciting that, for the first time in the history of South Africa, small-scale fishers will be fishing right holders in the fishing sector. It should be remembered that there is no foundation for the fishing rights allocation to small-scale fishers. The only existing institutional memory relates to the allocation of fishing rights to the commercial sector.

The aquaculture sector is edging closer to its potential of supplying fish and fish products, job creation and contribution to the GDP. The implementation of the 9 aquaculture projects under Operation Phakisa is such an exceptional achievement as was reported by the President during SONA.

The aquaculture investment and support from various Government Programmes, such as the Aquaculture Development and Enhancement Programme, and CASP are the main enabling factors. Furthermore, the Aquaculture Bill that will be tabled in Parliament during the current financial year will, among other purposes, create a seamless and efficient aquaculture application, permitting and management system. The Department is encouraged to pick up where it left the amendments of the Marine Living Resources Act as the country needs to develop a Fisheries Resources Act that will govern both marine and inland resources.

The sustainability of livelihoods depending on fisheries resources is anchored on responsible fisheries management which the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is mandated to do. Under the Marine Protection Services and Governance Lab of Operation Phakisa, the Department will be implementing the plan for collective and coordinated fisheries law enforcement efforts (capacity and resources) among various Government departments and agencies in the security cluster to curb illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing practises that rob the country and its legitimate fishers their socio-economic benefits. The participation of the Department on Operation Phakisa has strengthened the law enforcement as well as the monitoring and surveillance activities through collaboration with some of the security cluster agencies. The implementation of the Integrated Fisheries Security Strategy in sync with the Marine Protection Services and Governance is expected to yield the desired protection of the limited fisheries resources and assist in the recovery of sub-optimal fish stocks.

The Portfolio Committee reiterates that the Department should clearly align its service delivery targets to be geared towards palpable impact that ultimately are to drive economic growth, create jobs, and ensure food security.

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