Millions spent on dryland maize in Northern Cape

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Government has invested around R10 million in dryland maize on 954ha in the arid Northern Cape. Planting started in January and is part of a project aimed at benefiting smallholders in the Francis Baard area. The fact that the maize was planted on dryland has attracted criticism. But according to Northern Cape department of agriculture spokesperson, Phemelo Manankong, no maize was planted on dryland. Instead, a short-term cultivar (Phb 32A05B) was in fact used on ‘fallow land’.

At a cost of R10 480/ ha, a minimum yield of 4,7t/ ha is necessary just to break even at a maize price of R2 200/t. Jannie de Villiers, general manager of Grain SA, commended the government for its efforts to help small-scale farmers, but said it should rather look at proven successes in the province – such as the Maize Trust’s projects – instead of trying “to break new ground”.
Noting that Grain SA had no data on the possible success rate of dryland maize in the Northern Cape, De Villiers said the long-term sustainability of projects was crucial and needed to be considered.

“You need to stay within known parameters because we simply don’t have the luxury to experiment in this country. People need to eat,” said De Villiers. Tried and tested planting dates should be adhered to and projects shouldn’t be commenced on ‘new’ (fallow) land. “Rather look at land that has a proven production potential. This decreases the window for error,” said De Villiers.

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Agri Northern Cape president Henk van Wyk agreed that the department of agriculture shouldn’t have planted the maize on fallow land that was not irrigated. (Water is available, but an irrigation system has yet to be installed.) “The department took too much of a risk in planting maize under these conditions,” said Van Wyk. Taxpayers’ money was used “and greater care should be taken in decision-making”, he added.

Van Wyk said there was no reason why government had to do this project in such a hurried manner. It should rather have waited a year or two until the proper infrastructure was in place before planting, he said.