Covid-19: KZN farmers left high and dry by Department of Agriculture

Issued by Chris Pappas, MPL – DA KZN Spokesperson on Agriculture
18 May 2020 in Press Statements

Despite the country being 52 days into lockdown, the KwaZulu-Natal government has done nothing to help the province’s agricultural sector to prepare for the inevitable spread and spike of Covid-19, or the devastating impacts of governments prolonged hard lockdown.

The failure was revealed late last week during an on-line provincial Agriculture portfolio committee.

The DA in KZN is extremely concerned by the Department’s failure to assist farmers, farm workers and the sector as a whole during this time of crisis, ultimately placing the food security and food value chain at risk. The issue is made all the more alarming given the earlier assurance by President Cyril Rampahosa – to all South Africans – that the first five weeks of the lockdown were meant to prepare for the inevitable rise in Covid-19 cases.

By now, the DoA should have been assisting farmers with the provision of sanitisers, gloves, masks and other work place preventative measures to combat the inevitable rise in cases. Instead, it has been spending time and resources assisting other collapsed Departments. This at the expense of emerging farmers and commercial operations.

While the DA acknowledges and appreciates the allocation of funds made by the National Department of Agriculture, through reprioritising existing budgets, KZN’s DoA should have done more in the past 52 days to prepare the agricultural sector as a whole. It is for this reason that the DA has today written to both KZN’s Agriculture MEC, Bongiwe Sithole-Moloi and her HOD Siza Sibande (view here) with solutions aimed at turning the situation around as a matter of urgency. These include:

  • The publication of a work place readiness document for the agricultural sector in English, isiZulu and Afrikaans. This document should contain information to assist employers to effectively plan their operations around hygiene and safety requirements as well as to comply with work place quarantine requirements should they arise;
  • The mass roll-out of masks and sanitisers for emerging and commercial farmers;
  • The subsidisation and implementation of a routine sanitisation plan for food production facilities throughout KZN;
  • A widespread education drive to farmers and farm workers and;
  • The sanitisation of farms and workers’ dwellings.

The apathy displayed by KZN’s DoA to date brings into question the response and preparedness of all provincial government Departments when it comes to Covid-19, its long-term effects and the President’s commitment to gearing towards the “new normal”.

By contrast, the Western Cape DoA has, amongst others, produced information brochures, handed over 100 000 personal protective equipment items, provided sanitisers, developed a Frequently Asked Questions communication (FAQs) specifically for the sector and released R10million to the deciduous fruit industry.

It is critical that the DoA in KZN steps up and starts to deliver on its mandate. The DA urges agricultural unions, co-operatives and representative bodies to pressure the KZN government to supply the support that the sector deserves during the current health pandemic.