A potential natural disaster

I refer to an article in The Sunday Tribune dated 29 July on the ‘Zero Hunger’ project in which the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), together with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, has started rolling out about R800 million for agricultural tools to work unused agricultural land lying fallow in the Eastern Cape.

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I am a farmer with a B.Sc (Agric) degree and have been farming in the KZN Midlands for 40 years. The Zero Hunger plan involves a crop production programme that seeks to plough 300 000ha of unused arable land in the next year. This is a very noble idea and I fully support this initiative. However, the manner in which the above departments ‘plan’ the roll-out could lead to one of the biggest disasters this country has ever seen.

Much of this land has been cultivated, mismanaged and abandoned by previous generations resulting in dongas and soil erosion. The reclaiming of such land must be planned properly. At the outset, a land use plan must be drawn up showing crest roads, contours and waterways and a time-frame established for controlling the phases of the project. Then, with the correct earth-moving equipment, lands must be levelled to a smooth, even slope, starting from the top of the hills.

In phase 1 in the first year, the land preparation must begin. The crest roads and waterways must be constructed and established with perennial grass. Then, only in the second year must the contour banks be surveyed and constructed. Only after this can crops be planted. The crest roads, contour banks and waterways must also be properly maintained. It needs a brilliant person to mastermind this mammoth project. I beg the departments for a planned phasing-in programme.

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