Budget squeeze for SA agricultural research amid drought

Cape Town – The Agricultural Research Council (ARC), one of South Africa's key weapons in the fight against the current drought, has seen its net surplus decline by 300% during 2014/2015.

While still in the black the ARC has experienced a 300% decrease in its surplus from R137m to R34m for the 2014/15 financial year.

The ARC is at the forefront of SA’s battle against drought and needs sufficient resources, funding, and human capacity for the research that can mitigate the agricultural risks associated with drought and heat.

It conducts research and development in areas including the breeding of drought and heat tolerant varieties, more water efficient vegetables, less water dependant crops, and the identification of genetic markers and genes for drought tolerance in indigenous animals.

ARC Chief Financial Officer Gabriel Maluleke told Fin24 that budget cuts to the parastatal saw its operational Parliamentary Grant being increased by a paltry 1% - way below the inflation rate.

According to the ARC annual report for 2014/15 the Parliamentary Grant from government is generally used to cover operational activities such as salaries, consumables, and maintenance.

“At the same time the external income dropped by 13% compared to the previous year, due to general adverse economic conditions which resulted in some of our clients revising their expenditures,” he said.

Maluleke also said that salaries were the biggest cost component and that it had increased by 11%.

According to international climate models droughts were expected to become more frequent and more severe under climate change.

South Africa was facing its worst drought in more than two decades as the El Nino weather pattern disrupted planting.

At the launch of the ARC annual report last week ARC CEO Dr Shadrack Moephuli said that it was unfortunate that funding for agricultural research has been declining in recent years.

“More funding is required to be channelled in the area of agricultural research from both private and public sectors,” he said.

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