A high profile government delegation visited Port Alfred by invitation of the mayor of Ndlambe on Monday to interact with various sector and business leaders from the area.
Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, and the Minister of Higher Education, Professor Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize, both during discussions indicated that they had picked up on certain issues which were mentioned by the speakers and that “if everyone works together those matters could be resolved”.
Issues regarding the lack of funding for Infrastructure maintenance, the unavailability of water, environmental and land reform matters dominated the evening.
Fanie Fouche from Ndlambe Municipality touched on water, waste and environmental management issues. A water programme introduced in 2012 is still not in operation. Stormwater and sewerage facilities are also inadequate but funding applications were submitted. The municipality is also facing litigation over landfill sites and stray animals a commonage control. Sand dune encroachment is a massive problem for Ndlambe and litigation may follow.
Shaun Mason and Patrick Handley both highlighted the need for a tarred runway at 43 Air School to comply with Civil Aviation Authority’s requirements for an airport. Not only will such an upgrade impact on tourism and the economy of the region but it also means that the training facility will remain in Port Alfred. One of the biggest problems at the moment is that CAA had condemned the boundary fence of the airfield which could lead to the airfield’s license to be revoked which will mean that the facility will have to move. If the facility moves a huge economic gap would be created due to the loss of spending power and the lives of about 1000 people would be directly affected.
Walter Biggs on behalf of the dairy industry said that the industry is stable and growing but not as fast as it should due to lack of irrigation.
Processing occurs in Port Elizabeth and there are no prospects of opening such facilities in the area due to costs.
With regard to emerging farming, Biggs said that the government was not interested in listening to farmers.
Diseased animals are the biggest threat to dairy farmers and many of these animals are strays in communities and stricter laws are required to manage this problem.
Paul Griffiths from Chicory SA said that they cannot produce enough chicory for their customers due to land shortages. “The timing of support from the government must also fit in with planting seasons but this often does not happen therefore crops fail,” he said.
Jonno Bradfield from the pineapple industry talked about a 50 percent offer to his workers, which was structured in such a manner that it was a win-win situation for everyone. The concept could have been copied by many others. “But I became so frustrated that I finally withdrew from the deal as the government started to change the original deal that was agreed upon,” he said.
Bradfield also highlighted the lack of funding for the maintenance of rural roads. “Bhisho did not budget one cent during 2017 for road maintenance, down from R38 million over a two period to be shared by Ndlambe and Makana,” he said.
Brent McNamara represented organized agriculture. He also mentioned the vibrant red meat industry with Alexandria having the highest number of cattle in the Eastern Cape and the Game industry, both which are doing exceptionally well.
Being a dry land farming area with limited high-value land in terms of rainfall weather plays an important role which had to be acknowledged.
Agricultural production is dependent on management best practices and capabilities.
Land reform projects in the area had to a large extent failed and there are a number of reasons. Incorrect beneficiary selection and unrealistic expectation of the production value of ground were some of the contributing factors.
Although land is an important aspect of farming access to finance for production and for improving capabilities and training are vital to be successful in farming.
A successful land reform project in the area had limited involvement from the government as a commercial farmer paid for most of it out his own pocket.
Stray and diseased cattle and alien vegetation on commonages cause a major risk to commercial farmers and despite litigation, Agri-EC is still open to resolving the issue amicably.
On the agricultural front, the Municipality is under-capacitated in terms of expertise. “The Local Economic Development department will require assistance for people with expertise in farming to try an drive the industry,” McNamara said.
Roger Keeton, Officer Commanding of the new Umzimvubu Regiment, gave an interesting overview of how soldiers can assist local areas to develop. “If our defence force units procure locally instead of centrally huge amounts of money would be released into various regions’ economies, therefore, local producers and communities would benefit directly,” he said. This was new to Radebe who said that he was not aware that the programme was in existence.
Dodo Shuping also gave a brief overview of Ndlambe FM.
Faxi will now prepare a comprehensive report and submit it to Radebe who committed that he will make sure to inform all government departments who may be involved in the matters discussed.
“One thing that actually embarrassed me was when JB talked about a 50 percent land programme which never happened because of government delays,” Radebe said.
Mkhize, in closing, said that more emphasis should be placed on training that colleges provided in areas. “These should be linked to the opportunities that are available in specific areas and this is not happening,” she said.