Food Security Priority Actions in the context of COVID-19 in South Africa: a Civil Society Perspective

On April 6 2020, the Minister of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Minister Didiza, announced a R1,2 billion COVID-19 disaster relief fund for small-scale farmers with an annual turnover of between R20,000 and R1 million per annum. This is a recognition of the crucial contribution of rural, urban and peri-urban small-scale farmers to local food supplies, and why they need agricultural inputs. The COVID-19 crisis comes on top of an extended and long-term drought in many regions of the country, which has severely compromised small-scale farmer production and who are in desperate need of a kick-start to stimulate production, as well as small livestock farmers, especially in drought-stricken areas, who need to be supported to keep their livestock alive. 

The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) behind this submission thus all welcome the Minister’s recognition of the need for relief and a number of them have been attempting to assist farmers to apply for the measures. However, it has become evident that the eligibility criteria, application process, time frames, the type and source of support provided and the ring-fencing of 30% of the available fund for a particular group of often better off farmers create severe restrictions on who can apply. This will exclude the majority of farmers, including those the relief is intended to support. Furthermore, it is apparent that the scope of support envisaged by government excludes farmers and food producers, including urban and periurban producers, whose contributions to food security are essential in these times of COVID-19 induced stress on our people, our food production systems and our supply chains. This submission is based on a broad-based consultation with farmer organisations and CSOs that provide direct support to small-scale farmers or research in support of small-scale producers and agricultural suppliers and is endorsed by 97 such organisations. 

The CSOs involved in this disaster relief fund are already part of the C19 National Food Group (of which a smallholder farmer sub-group has been formed). Together, these groupings form the broader C19 National People’s Coalition focusing on the food system. The submission makes alternative proposals for the administration of relief to small-scale farmers around four immediate issues: a) Broadening the eligibility criteria for who can apply b) Ring-fencing a budget for allocation to resource poor farmers c) Broadening the types and modalities of support that will be funded d) Extending the deadline for submission of applications 2 In addition, we submit that a wider range of Government Departments and local municipalities and NGOs could play a role in the distribution of vouchers in order to reach those farmers most in need and at risk of exclusion.