Research into the Covid-19 relief fund for small-scale farmers has exposed a couple of issues, including gender bias in the system and processing of the fund.
According to Professor Ruth Hall of the University of Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty Land and Agrarian Studies, preliminary findings during a field work in Limpopo revealed that men received more money and support than women and that many farmers were robbed as they lost access to their local markets.
Hall claimed the government took large amounts of money that had been allocated to the relief fund and allocated it unevenly across less than 10 big private suppliers, including the Noord Transkei Korporasie.
“Between men and women, they were almost equal in terms of who got support and who didn’t, there were slightly more women who got more support than men, and that served as an obscure of the reality of gender bias in the system,” said Hall.
“Most of the women who were getting support got it as groups, as cooperatives. One cooperative of 11 women would get the same kind of level of support as a single man got.”
Hall said over time, a lot of agricultural support pushed the farmers to produce commercial crops for far away markets without getting any payment for it.
“So, those sending crops like mustard, chillies, okra and baby marrows through to the Joburg fresh produce market found that there was no local market for them. When they did manage to send their produce, they didn’t get any income and transporters shifted the costs back to the producers,” Hall said.
She added that the first phase of the relief fund was small and across the province they had disposed more than 2 500 vouchers which sat at 1% of the estimated number of small-scale producers in Limpopo.
“In one village outside Mopane, it became clear that most people had never heard either of the departmental process, or of the Solidarity Fund. But a lot of them had lost their access to markets.”
Director of the Association for Rural Advancement in KwaZulu-Natal, Laurel Oettle, said government’s response was to launch a relief programme specifically for small-scale farmers which provided subsidies for farming inputs.
“Alongside food parcels and additional social grants, this was how government aimed to address the crisis, with many farmers receiving vouchers of R2 000 across the board, regardless of their circumstance.”
However, Hall said the vouchers were only used at private companies which pumped the money back into the privatised industry.
First published in The Citizen on 16 April 2021.