As part of the Zero Hunger initiative, the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) has started rolling out about R800 million for agricultural tools to work unused agricultural land.

The first phase of the roll-out took place last week in Bhisho in the Eastern Cape where the department, in conjunction with the provincial Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, announced plans to revitalise agricultural land lying fallow in the province.

The plan entails a crop production programme that seeks to plough more than 300 000 hectares of unused arable land. The Eastern Cape suffers from under-utilisation of rich agricultural terrain because of skills constraints and a lack of government support.

In February, suspended director general of the DAFF Langa Zitha, told Business Report the government planned to plough R4 billion for the Zero Hunger Programme which aims to develop smallholder farmers.

For the Eastern Cape, the initiative constitutes a significant milestone since the province is blighted by poverty and starvation. The main beneficiaries of the initiative would be people from rural communities who could work the land for commercial benefit and poverty alleviation.

The national department was targeting communal land and other terrain belonging to the state and traditional authorities, according to Palesa Mokomele, a spokeswoman at DAFF.

She said some of the money for the Zero Hunger Programme would go toward acquiring more than 600 tractors for small scale farmers. She added that in the Eastern Cape “the coastal belt will be the first development area. The aim is to plough 300 000 hectares of land in the next year”.

To assist the province with the mechanisation plan, Mokomele said the national department had already handed over 72 tractors to farmers in the region. “We need to plough more resources into capacitating farmers and bringing land and dilapidated infrastructure back to life,” she said.

Food security is a major issue for SA since millions of people are unemployed, and many face the reality of going to bed without a meal.

Rising food prices, some of which have been recorded recently, continue to hit South Africans, making it even more difficult for the poor to escape the grip of hunger and malnutrition. This past week data showed that prices of staple foods such as maize had shot up by 25 percent as a result of the drought in the US.

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said rising food prices would result in an increased burden of poverty. She encouraged small scale farmers to sell their surplus.