Multimillion-rand farming project gathers dust
Scheme ground to a halt after funds suddenly dried up. Now government has distanced itself from the whole thing
A R10m poverty alleviation agricultural project launched by Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle has fallen into ruin after his office stopped supporting the project, a traditional leader has claimed.
For the past four months equipment worth millions – including two tractors, rippers, trailers, sawmill grinders, automatic sprinkler systems and hundreds of bags of fertiliser – have lain unused.
These were meant to be used as part of a maize and soya project, launched as a collaboration between the office of the premier, the department of rural development and agrarian reform and a Mexican company, on 21 hectares of land at Maqanyeni village in Libode.
The project was meant to create hundreds of jobs, fight poverty and reduce farming costs for small farmers in the area.
But Chief Pumla Hlwatika told Times Select the government stopped paying a stipend to workers, and claimed that no one from the department or the office of the premier was monitoring the project.
In 2018, Hlwatika wrote to Masualle, requesting his office’s intervention.
In the letter, seen by Times Select, Hlwatika said the project had a visible economic and social impact on the community. Hlwatika claimed that 40 youngsters were trained and were all receiving a R2,000 monthly stipend from November 2017 until April 2018.
“Poverty levels were visibly improved and the general economic activities greatly improved as well,” she wrote.
But the money has since dried up.
Hlwatika said soil preparation and a feasibility study had been completed and the 21 hectares had been fenced off.
“We would like to plough maize on the land. Government has invested loads of money in this project, training and paying youth. Now all that training has gone to waste,” she told Times Select.
She claimed bags of fertiliser and other soil chemicals were gathering dust in a shed.
“We had experts, who were assisting us, but they have just disappeared and the stipend to the youth stopped long time ago.”
The premier’s spokesperson, Sonwabo Mbananga, confirmed the office had spent R10m on the first phase of the project and that it had been very successful, providing training to farmers and employing about 40 people.
“Fertiliser and seeds were also purchased, and the first phase successfully implemented,” Mbananga said.
Now, Mbananga said, a second phase would be launched soon – and would be driven by the department.
But when contacted for comment, department spokesperson Andile Fani distanced his department from the project.
“The only project that we know that was executed in 2017/18 at Nyandeni, was a green energy project,” Fani said.
He said the only input the department gave on the maize and soya project was to offer technical skills and to make its scientists available.
The premier had now written to the provincial director general, Marion Mbina-Mthembu, and the department to try to get clarity on the project.