Though government’s aid package of R1,2 billion for small-scale farmers has widely been welcomed, potential beneficiaries are struggling to access the application process. It enhances the suspicion that the money in the COVID-19 Agricultural Disaster Support Fund (CADS Fund) is meant for a small number of politically connected people who have the means and access to senior officials in the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, rather than being a broad-based empowerment mechanism to keep needy small-scale farmers producing throughout the challenging lockdown measures.
Saai, a network of family farmers that specialises in digital solutions to agricultural development, has received numerous complaints from small-scale farmers across the country who believe that the system is geared to keep them out.
Many of them do not have access to printers to get a hard copy of the prescribed forms, and service providers in rural towns are closed during the lockdown. Those who could make a plan to get a form printed out and completed, can’t get the application filed as the Department’s offices are located far away, or closed. Police at roadblocks are not informed about the need for small-scale farmers to physically file these forms at the Department’s offices, and don’t deem it to be an essential service.
Saai has, by request of its members, developed a digital form with all the functionality the Department needs to process, check and monitor the application process, and presented it to national and provincial officials. No one can make a call on the use of the digital forms though, and in the face of the looming deadline on 22 April there seems to be no urgency about it.
“They don’t really want us to apply,” says a beneficiary of the land redistribution programme in Hoedspruit, “because they already have other plans for that money! In agriculture the money seldom drips through to the farmers on grassroots level. Some of us have been waiting since 2012 for our post-settlement grants.”
Saai is also currently exploring legal options to assist small-scale farmers to have the Department consider the significant barriers to access the aid package.