Maintenance management plans (specifically for farms)

In terms of the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998) (NEMA), the general day-to-day management of farms often involves several activities which, strictly speaking, require environmental authorisation. Examples include removing material (debris, silt, etc) from water courses or clearing of natural vegetation to maintain fence lines, fire breaks, etc. Environmental authorisation, in these cases, via a basic assessment, takes time (6-8 months before an authorisation can be expected from the competent (environmental) authority) and costs money. No business can operate efficiently and effectively if it requires authorisation for activities that are deemed best agricultural practice (particularly if these authorisations are undertaken in a piece-meal fashion). Added to this, farmers are obliged to comply with other legislation related to their working of the land, notably, the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (Act 43 of 1983) (CARA) and the National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998) (NWA).

However, if these routine maintenance activities are undertaken in accordance with a maintenance management plan approved by the competent (environmental) authority, the farmer is exempt from obtaining environmental authorisation.

ACER dealt with in interesting case during the past two years when a farmer was served a non-compliance letter by the competent (environmental) authority for clearing silt and debris from drainage lines following a heavy storm. ACER analysed the alleged non-compliances and formulated responses elaborating that the farmer was simply complying with the obligations imposed by CARA, NWA and NEMA (duty of care and remediation of environmental damage). The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Water and Sanitation agreed and, following a site inspection, the competent (environmental) authority concurred. The non-compliance letter was withdrawn.

The event made ACER think about the benefits of a farm operating with an approved maintenance plan, something which it seems several wine farms in the Western Cape are already doing. After engaging with various government departments, ACER compiled a maintenance management plan for the same farmer. The process was relatively simple, quick and inexpensive, particularly compared to a single or multiple environmental authorisations. The Maintenance Management Plan has been approved by the competent (environmental) authority, which enables the farmer to manage the farm unencumbered by the need for environmental authorisations for maintenance related activities and free of concern of the possibility of future non-compliances.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)