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Agri SA has written to minister Thoko Didiza, requesting an investigation into the non-payment of critical service providers in the midst of the worst locust outbreak in the past 25 years. If no action is taken, government could lose the services of vital locust officers, even as millions of hectares of crops remain in danger of extensive damage as a result of the ongoing crisis.
Agri SA has repeatedly alerted the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) to the problem of delayed payments to locust officers, the people directly responsible for pesticide spraying. Some of these officers have not been paid for up to six months. Moreover, the fuel allowance has not been adjusted since 2013 and, with the current record-high fuel price, locust officers now find themselves in dire financial straits.
In March 2022, the DALRRD led a weekly joint operations committee (JOC) meeting to co-ordinate the efforts to contain and eradicate the locust outbreak that has affected more than 24 million hectares of agricultural land in South Africa. Agri SA has used this forum to provide weekly reports compiled by its provincial affiliates on the status of the payment backlog. Despite weekly requests for the matter to be investigated, no action has been taken to address this critical threat to the sector’s ability to combat the outbreak.
Ongoing non-payment will be escalated
As a result of the department’s inaction, some of the locust officers have now sought legal counsel, and the threat of litigation looms unless the matter is addressed urgently. Agri SA is particularly concerned that the current situation will not only cause locust officers to withdraw their services but will also undermine the department’s future ability to contract service providers to fulfil essential functions in future crises.
In an unfortunate turn of events, the weekly JOC meeting scheduled for 8 June 2022, where this crisis could have been addressed, was cancelled as officials take leave. The issue has now hit a crisis point, which necessitated the escalation of the matter. Agri SA has therefore seen no alternative but to appeal to Didiza for intervention to investigate the reason for the ongoing non-payment, and to ensure the swift resolution of the situation. In addition to addressing the immediate need, Agri SA has also requested that Didiza initiate an investigation into how the payment system can be improved to avoid similar challenges in the future.
Agri SA will continue to engage all stakeholders to ensure that the sector can mitigate the impact of the current locust outbreak on the South African economy and the nation’s food security. – Press release, Agri SA