Agricultural support a govt priority

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Parliament - The Illima/Letsema campaign, which aims to distribute agricultural starter packs to poor households, will receive a further R1.2 billion boost in 2009.

Delivering his 2009 Budget Speech in Parliament on Wednesday, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said the budget for increasing agricultural output, raising rural incomes and supporting small scale farmers are key objectives of government's rural development strategy.

Launched in September last year by the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Lulu Xingwana, the purpose of the Ilima/Letsema Campaign is to mobilise communities to utilise the ploughing fields in order to ensure that no land lies unplanted and that all land available is used productively to ensure food security.

As part of the campaign the department encourages communities to turn the emphasis back to the land and in response to the fight against food insecurity, unemployment, high food prices and rural development. The provision of agricultural starter packs for domestic and communal food production is currently being rolled out.

Government has been urging South Africans and stakeholders in the agriculture sector to grow their own food in the face of soaring food prices.

The minister said at the time: "Let's go back to our mealie fields and plough. We are urging all South Africans both in urban and rural areas to develop vegetable gardens in their respective yards."

One of this year's Tips of Trevor came from Lazarus Lamola of Polokwane. He said when he was a teenager, villagers used to plough their land and harvest enough food to last at least a year.

"There was plenty of maize, beans and other vegetables, and except for drastic drought years, we would never go hungry. The subsistence farming system has totally collapsed in many areas.

"It is sad to see vast amounts of land go to waste when we have a food price problem," he said.

Mr Lamola also suggested the encouragement of partnerships between private farmers and villagers to once again use the land for food production and sustenance.

President Kgalema Motlanthe said in his State of the Nation Address on Friday that as part of the many detailed projects contained in the government's Programme of Action, particular attention would be paid Second Economy interventions such as the community works programme, support for small and micro-enterprises and rural development initiatives

According to the minister, the budget for land reform and land restitution over the next three years totals R20.3 billion.

However, government needs an extra injection of R74 billion in order to meet its 2014 target of redistributing 30 percent of the country's agricultural land to black South Africans due to the increasing cost of acquiring land.

In July last year, the department had in fact redistributed 4.8 million hectares of land against its target of 24.6 million hectares by 2014.

The department has also improved the land acquisition instruments by reviewing the Land Reform and Agricultural Development (LRAD) grants from R20 000 to R111 152.

The Settlement and Production Land Acquisition Grant (SPLAG) from R111 152 to R430 085.