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March 31, 2010

Community farming project in South Africa set for bumper harvest

by Lindsey Berry

Rural development agency, the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) Eastern Cape (EC) reports that its dry-land-cropping community farming project in the Butterworth region of the province expects to harvest about 6 000 t of maize this season.

The estimated harvest is 200% bigger than last year's harvest. The current maize and soya bean plantation has increased from 1 600 ha last year to about 2 000 ha. AsgiSA EC indicates that the communities farming the land expect a yield of about 4,5 t/ha of maize and 1,5 t/ha of soya beans this season.

AsgiSA EC dry-land-cropping programme project manager Thukela Mashologu says that the communities that farm the land will receive 10% of the total harvest, while the remaining 90% will be sold to generate funds to repay production costs and for reinvestment back to the community.

"Food security is our main focus. In about a year the community will not have to buy maize again. Ninety per cent of production next year will be linked to reinvestment back to the community," says AsgiSA EC CEO Simpiwe Somdyala.

The programme was started in October 2008 and the main aim is to demonstrate that community-owned land can be productive and produce enough grain for commercial production.

Somdyala tells Engineering News that the focus this year is on consolidation and building local community capacity.

"We have set aside about R1,5 million to develop community members who can take over from outside contractors that are currently employed in these programmes. Over a period of three years, or less, depending on readiness at the local level, communities are expected to take over these operations through their cooperatives," he adds.

The initial focus of the project was on productivity and, as a result, outside contractors and experienced farmers were used as project managers. As the production improves, there will be a greater focus on training of community members, says Somdyala.

"For us the key test is long-term sustainability to support communities until they are ready to take over," he says.

Communities are given permission to occupy the farming land and individual households are responsible for areas of about 1,5 ha. The AgsiSA EC requests that households combine the land to form a 300 ha block in a 5 km radius. Scale is significant for commercial production and the aim of grouping land sections is to make the project viable under rain-fed irrigation conditions.

Dry-land cropping is a farming technique for the cultivation of land that receives little natural rainfall. Last year, an 800 ha pilot project was initiated with canola crops in the Butterworth region, but the drought in the Eastern Cape contributed to the failure of the crop. The weather conditions in the area are unpredictable, but good rains have contributed positively to the current maize and soya crop.

Somdyala says that a lack of supporting infrastructure is a challenge for agricultural development projects, but that the AsgiSA EC aims to develop some supporting infrastructure in the area.

Poor road conditions, lack of property fencing, disconnection from transport infrastructure, such as roads and railways, market distances and lack of storage, are challenges facing Eastern Cape farmers.

The lack of storage is the most significant challenge, says Somdyala. The AsgiSA EC is focusing on developing proper silos at strategic sites where production is taking place; and there are silos, in Butterworth, that have not been used for over five years that the agency has marked for refurbishment. Engineering News also reported earlier this year that R7-million has been set aside to construct silos at strategic sites in the former Transkei area.

Engineering News

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