Tractor farm food farming. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

THE Treasury on Wednesday showed the government’s commitment to using agriculture as a job creation tool in rural communities by allocating R6.2bn to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, with a focus on supporting newly established and emerging farmers.

Of that amount, R2.1bn will be transferred to provinces this year.

In the 2013-14 budget, Finance Minister Pravin Gorhan also allocated R1.4bn to the comprehensive agricultural support programme, which will accumulate to R5bn over the next three years. The programme is aimed at expanding farm infrastructure and provides support for dipping, fencing and rehabilitation of viable irrigation schemes.

This grant includes the extension recovery programme, which focuses on helping farmers through training programmes presented by fieldworkers and providing equipment.

Resources were also allocated for the land care programme grant, which specialises in poverty relief and infrastructure development. The programme is meant to improve productivity and sustainable use of natural resources, especially land.

Provinces will be encouraged to use this grant to create jobs through the expanded public works programme. Over the medium term, R248m was allocated to this grant.

The government has not abandoned the Ilima/Letsema projects started during former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration to help vulnerable farming communities increase agricultural production and invest in infrastructure. The Treasury allocated R1.4bn over the medium term to boost food production by helping previously disadvantaged farming communities.

After the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has implemented a new Ilima/Letsema strategy — with the aim of encouraging food gardens among other objectives — it is expected that it will make this grant subject to its standard operating procedure for farmer support.

The Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) expressed concerned over how the department would spend the provided additional allocation for smallholder farmers, as support given to them thus far “has not brought forth the much-needed successes”.

Dr John Purchase, CEO of the chamber, said more efficient spending of the department’s allocation was required.

He also expressed disappointment over the lack of an allocation to speed up and possibly conclude land reform and land restitution, considering the emphasis placed on this issue through consultation on the Green Paper on Land Reform.

Agbiz welcomed the minister’s budget speech, saying that despite having little room to manoeuvre, he addressed key issues correctly, focused on value for money and inspired confidence that the country’s finances were being managed responsibly.

Dr Purchase also the modest personal tax relief would enhance the agricultural sector, as consumers were in need of some relief. “Agbiz is very supportive of tax relief to small businesses in the attempt to broadly support entrepreneurs.

“The tax incentives for employment generation and the incentives for doing business in Africa are also greatly welcomed.”

Agbiz expressed its support for the intentions to support South Africa’s biofuels drive and emphasized the need to readdress the biofuels policy in agriculture.

He also said the allocation to the enhancement of manufacturing competitiveness (specifically for agro-industrialisation) and for the special economic zones would go a long way to encourage entrepreneurs to invest.