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Farmers must produce food, not repair roads

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With the festive season approaching and the heavy summer rains predicted, many farmers across the Free State are repairing roads themselves in an effort to keep holidaymakers safe and transport input products to their farms for the planting season.

Dr Jack Armour, commercial manager of Free State Agriculture (FSA), says farmers have no option but to jump in and repair roads themselves as the state has been slow to get small development contractors hired to try to repair roads. “Apart from the cost of transporting agricultural inputs, many farmers also had breakage damage to vehicles and this has contributed to the extremely high input costs this season.”

Armour confirmed that FSA had sent a strongly worded letter to the Free State MEC for Police, Roads and Traffic, calling on the department to stop development and job creation schemes and to return to contacting competent civil engineering firms to do the job properly.

FSA met with the MEC on 23 November and emphasized that the help of the farmers to try to get the roads drivable themselves is not sustainable but is only done out of necessity. The MEC in turn asked farmers to join hands with the state and tackle the roads together as the state no longer has funds. The MEC indicated that he himself had investigated the “yellow fleet” reported by FSA. He found 40 road scrapers and undertook to deploy them immediately. FSA pointed out that part of the poor performance of the “yellow fleet” is also the shortage of experienced trained road scraper operators.

Francois Wilken, FSA President, pointed out to the MEC during the meeting that farmers were exhausted. “Farmers patrol themselves at night to secure their rural communities and also to look after their livestock. Then they are also still dependent on themselves to fight disasters such as fires and locusts themselves because the state is not fulfilling its obligations. “Farmers cannot be expected to repair more roads due to the state’s inability.” Wilken emphasized that the primary role of farmers is the production of affordable food for the people of South Africa.

Following a legal opinion, FSA made a request to agricultural associations to arrange their roads in order of danger to life, which is then communicated to their district road official. The department could then potentially incur liability for any further damage caused by roads, as a result of a failure to act after the shortcomings were brought to its attention.

FSA encourages road users to file claims if any damage was caused to vehicles due to poor roads. The claim form is available here