Department of Agriculture refuses to pay young farmers their prize money

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, to ask that her department urgently pay the winners of the 2019 Youth in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (YAFF) Small Scale Producer Competition their prize money of between R100 000 and R200 000.

They have been struggling to get their prize money from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) for almost a year. Time and again the department has come up with excuses and promises without these winners seeing a cent of their winnings.

One of the department’s excuses for non-payment was a change of rules from National Treasury. The department requested that the winners source items to the value of their prizes and provide DALRRD with the invoices. The department would then settle directly with the supplier. Whilst the young farmers have kept up their end of the deal, the department has not paid any of the suppliers. The department has offered no reasons or further assistance in this regard.

Farming is seasonal – DALRRD officials do not seem to know or understand this. A delay in procuring the necessary items for this season means that the farmers have to seek short term finance to purchase the items promised by the department. The farmers might not require the same items for the next season. Once purchased from own coffers it becomes an administrative burden to inform the department that their needs have changed. This is creating a big problem for the farmers. Any funding sourced on short notice becomes very expensive.

The DA has previously submitted written parliamentary questions to the Minister to ascertain the reasons for the delay but has yet to receive an answer from her.

Minister Didiza and her department have made great promises to farmers which include providing stimulus support to land reform farms, increasing commercialization of black farmers, providing opportunities to youth and to support women in farming, yet the department fails to deliver on these promises.

Farmers in South Africa need a coordinated support plan. It is important that all departments work together to ensure that farmers receive support speedily. If support is not coordinated, farmers will miss their planting seasons which places a strain on the country’s food security.

If the department is unable to fulfill its mandate, it is Minister Didiza’s job to seek better support from National Treasury in order to serve the agriculture community and stimulate the rural economy. As it stands, DALRRD is built on nothing but years of broken promises for farmers and there seems to be no interest from the current Minister to change that status quo.