The scale of enormous funds disappearing, is quite numbing. The general public as well as the numerous farmers are amazed that such a huge amount meant for agricultural purposes could be diverted and announced missing. South African farmers called for an investigation into how R2.5bn of government funds earmarked for drought relief last year was spent, after many commercial farms received no state help.

Only R1bn was allocated to government departments, of which about 85% was spent during a period in which six of the country’s nine provinces were declared disaster areas, according to research from Agri SA.

Of the R1bn, just 0.24% went to commercial farmers and much of the money was wasted on inexperienced distribution companies and overpriced feed and boreholes, the farmers’ group said.

“This is a warning shot, a flag going up to say we need to investigate these things,” Omri Van Zyl, executive director of Agri SA, told reporters on Thursday in Centurion. “For all South Africans, we need a proper delivery system to help us in such a crisis.”

South Africa experienced the worst drought in more than a century in 2015 and the dry weather continued the following year, pushing up food prices and hurting small-scale and commercial farmers.

President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation Address on February 9 that the government made R2.5bn available for livestock feed, water infrastructure and auction sales. Agri SA has asked the Public Protector and Auditor General to investigate and wants the country to develop a national action plan to deal with drought.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will cooperate with any inquiry and will work with Agri SA to find out where the money was spent, acting spokesperson Steve Galane told reporters.

The DAFF allocated R212m for drought-relief measures but only spent R146m, 90% of which went to subsistence farmers, Agri SA said.

Several inexperienced logistics companies were procured at high cost by local government officials to distribute animal feed when its members were willing to do the job for free or below cost, the group said.

“If that R212m was spent correctly we could have helped twice the number of farmers that we did,” said Dan Kriek, Agri SA’s vice president.

Heavy rain across most provinces this year and the end of 2016 has given farmers relief from the drought and the country’s Crop Estimates Committee is forecasting a record corn crop. However, the drought still persists in the Northern and Western Cape provinces.