Any desperate farmer on his or her knees will gratefully accept any assistance from the government, but the assistance being rolled out to the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform is far too little, far too late, says Agri-Eastern Cape."The whole process since the provincial [drought] declaration, which was a challenge in itself to get done, right through to the distribution has been chaotic," its president, Doug Stern, said in a statement on Thursday.The severity of the agricultural drought conditions was not the same, he argued."Areas of the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Amathole District Municipality and Chris Hani District Municipality have been in prolonged drought conditions, for, in some cases, five years, while some of our eastern districts have had near normal and, in some cases, above normal rainfall," he said.Citing an August provincial government drought report, Stern said only the Blue Crane Route, Dr Beyers Naudé and Makana local municipalities within the Sarah Baartman District, the Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality within the Amathole District and the Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality within the Chris Hani District were experiencing conditions where 50% or more of the municipal area was classified as extremely and severely dry. Dam levels within the province paint a similar picture.'back to front'"However, when the province was declared [a drought disaster area], which in accordance with the definition outlined within the Disaster Management Act can occur if existing legislation and contingency arrangements do not adequately provide for the provincial executive to deal effectively with the disaster or if there are any other special circumstances which warrant the declaration of a provincial state of disaster, the [provincial department] misinterpreted the intention and purpose of the act."A provincial declaration does not mean that all farmers, local municipalities or districts within the province automatically qualify for assistance. Yet, the [department] decided to allocate fodder assistance to beneficiaries across the entire province."To call for disaster reporting and assessment forms for the purposes of determining the extent of the problem and potential beneficiaries after a declaration has been made, is back to front. This is also contrary to the [department's] own policy guidelines."Stern said it was expected that 30% of commercial and emerging farmers in severely affected areas would not survive unless "significant and meaningful assistance from [the] government is provided"."While the province only allocated R74m to assist agriculture with this drought disaster, it is alleged to have allocated more than R100m to catering for 2020 for its various departments," Stern charged."It cannot be comprehended that when at least R600m is needed in the worst-affected areas to keep the farmers on their farms, save jobs and keep core herds alive for a 60-day period, the department, when only making R74m available to assist farmers, saw it fit to irresponsibly distribute in all districts and municipalities, some not even listed as severe or critical."'Blatant irregularities'Calls made for the department to set up required advisory forums have also failed to materialise, he said, and drought assessment forms have also not been adequately verified."We have evidence of fraudulent declarations. Blatant irregularities with regards to accepted stocking rates and classifications of beneficiaries have just been accepted by departmental officials," Stern said.He warned that should the premier and MEC refuse to engage them or deliver on commitments, Agri-EC "will be left with no option but to explore alternative methods to hold our elected representatives and officials to account".Premier Lubabalo Mabuyane's spokesperson, Mvusi Sicwetsha, said "grandstanding is not helping the province to deal with the drought"."Agri-Eastern Cape has a duty to work with [the] government for the benefit of its members," he said."The premier and MEC held a meeting with them. The follow-ups … require them to work with the officials rolling out drought [relief] and for those farmers with insurance policies for the agri-businesses to tap into that resource to deal with this drought," Sicwetsha said."It is important for them as the stakeholders to work with the department and not to toss press statements around. [The] government is using the limited resources it has to help farmers and households deal with this drought."