The Eastern Cape government is rolling out a five-year plan to overhaul six irrigation schemes in the province and plans to approach national Treasury this year to foot over R300 million of the bill. “Funding will come from the private sector, province and national,” said Zukile Pityi the senior agriculture department official tasked with revitalising the schemes. “We will make a special submission to the national treasury to come up with half the total of R660 million needed over a five-year period.”
Schemes earmarked for revival include Tyefu, Qamata, Ncora, Shilo and Keiskammahoek. Pityi said R13 million had been allocated in 2005/06 to beef up institutional arrangements for all schemes. This included appointing scheme manager and financial officers. This year the province had allocated another R40 million for fencing and refurbishing irrigation equipment.
Pityi rejected claims by irrigation farmers that government plans on the cards for years to revive the schemes had ground to a halt because of corruption and mismanagement. “We have had social conflicts on some schemes but we can safely say these problems are being sorted out,” he said. “In the last financial year we built a R4 million dairy parlour at Keiskammahoek in partnership with commercial farmers, and expect delivery any day of 500 animals.” A joint venture had been formed at Tyefu for planting 100ha of fruit trees. “We will be signing an agreement soon,” said Pityi.
Reviving the schemes is expected to form an important part of the province’s biofuels strategy. Earlier this year the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) announced plans to secure a R3,2 billion investment for two biofuels projects – one near Cradock in the Eastern Cape and the other near Hoedspruit in Mpumalanga.
Cradock-based Sugar Beet RSA has just completed a feasibility study with the IDC and the Central Energy Fund on the viability of producing ethanol from sugar beet. The company expected final results in June but early indications were positive, said Sugar Beet RSA director Lusapo Bengu. “I have no doubt sugar beet will form a substantial part of the Eastern Cape’s biofuels plan,” said Bengu. A processing plant is expected to cost between R800 million and R1 billion, requiring a steady supply of beet to remain viable. The company said it conducted over 100 trials in the greater Fish River valley from Teebus to Qamata, producing the highest yields of sucrose in the world (17t/ha). But more irrigation water and land would be needed to ensure a processing plant remained viable, the company said. Other biofuel initiatives under discussion include a R1 billion investment involving up to 150 000ha of sugarcane farms in Pondoland and southern KwaZulu-Natal, and planting 115 000ha of canola in the Eastern Cape by 2010. – Stephan Hofstätter