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Food security, land reform hit by Covid-19 budget cuts: Didiza

21 July 2020 - 19:48 By aphiwe deklerk
Agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza addressed parliament on Tuesday about the impact of budget cuts on her department.
Agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza addressed parliament on Tuesday about the impact of budget cuts on her department.
Image: SA Gov via Twitter

The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development has had over R2bn cut from its budget due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

And the cuts may well hit the government's food security programmes across the country hard.

This was revealed in parliament on Tuesday when minister Thoko Didiza delivered her budget vote during a mini-plenary session of the National Assembly, following the supplementary budget delivered by finance minister Tito Mboweni last month.

Mboweni's budget was necessitated by the government's reprioritisation of funds in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced it to close down the economy in a bid to limit the spread of the virus.

A number of government departments and entities have seen multibillion-rand budget cuts as a result of the new budget.

“The biggest portion of the cuts of R1.89bn within the department affected the programmes that deliver on food security, land redistribution and restitution,” said Didiza.

“These programmes are at the core for achieving outcomes in food security and achieving transformation priority through redress and equitable access to producers support.”

She told parliament that her department was initially in February given a budget of R16.8bn, but this was later cut to R14.4bn during the supplementary budget on June 24, 2020 - a reduction of R2.4bn.

Specifically, these cuts have seen food security programmes losing R939m, land redistribution and tenure reform R544m, and land restitution R403m.

“The food security programme in our budget comprises the transfer allocation from the national budget as covered by the division of revenue. That would be the Ilima/Letsema and the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme,” said Didiza.

“These budget adjustments will therefore mean provinces will receive lesser allocation for producer support for production and infrastructure. Provinces will therefore need to prioritise projects for this financial year.”

She said the rural development budget has also been cut by R199m, which would negatively affect rural social infrastructure.

“[This] would include the revitalisation of irrigation schemes. This ... will lead to delayed implementation of all farm infrastructure projects.”

Didiza said her department was appreciative that the cuts did not affect the allocation of R495m for biosecurity and supporting exports, and about R500m to finalise land claims.

She said the cut would also not affect the Agriculture Research Council, which was already experiencing cash flow challenges.

The minister added that the budget cuts meant that they have to deal with difficult trade-offs in order to minimise the negative impact on service delivery.