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Over 8 000 hectares of land earmarked for Free State



Staff Reporter

Free State farmers battling for land over the years are expected to benefit when the government releases parcels of state land across the province for leasing in the coming months.

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza announced on Wednesday that the government will be releasing 8 333 hectares of farmland in the province as part of a countrywide initiative.

Didiza said this when she outlined the process to be followed by those interested in leasing state land.

She said in the coming two weeks, the government will advertise the 896 farms measuring 700 000 hectares of underutilised or vacant state land in seven provinces.

“The advertisement notices will be in the local, district and provincial newspapers, websites and local radio stations,” said Didiza.

“Application forms will be made available in the district offices and provincial offices of the Departments of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development as well as municipal district offices,” she added.

All applicants will undergo screening and interviews to determine their suitability.

Both the successful and unsuccessful applicants will be informed of the outcome in writing within a period of about three weeks.

The leases will be 30 years long with an option to buy.

In the Eastern Cape, at least 43 000 hectares of land will be available for leasing while KwaZulu-Natal will have 3 684 hectares; Limpopo 121 567 hectares; Mpumalanga 40 206 hectares; the Northern Cape 12 224 hectares; and the North West 300 000 hectares.

No land will be available for leasing in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

All beneficiaries allocated state land and signed lease agreements will be subjected to a compulsory training programme.

The training programme will include entry-level training on the commodity of their choice, basic record keeping and basic financial management as well as enterprise development.

Since February, the government has released 135 117 hectares of land to 275 farmers nationally.

In the Free State, only 501 hectares have been allocated.

Meanwhile, Tankisi Masiteng has been appointed the head of the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Agriculture MEC William Bulwane made the announcement on Thursday and said Masiteng, an agriculturist by profession, comes with extensive experience in the public sector as the department focuses on strengthening governance.

Before his appointment, which is effective from October 1, Masiteng was the acting head of the department.


Use of advanced technology expected to ease stock theft



Staff Reporter

Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development MEC William Bulwane believes the use of drones and digital trackers to monitor the movement of livestock could help improve security on the farms and allow emerging farmers to grow.

According to the MEC, most farmers along the SA border with Lesotho have struggled with stock theft and farm attacks for a long time and he anticipates a new initiative launched by his department on Friday to reduce the high crime rate and allow farmers to focus more on their operations.

“We felt it important to help farmers improve security on their farms using drones and trackers for their livestock,” said Bulwane during the launch of the Risk Management Solution Programme near Wepener.

The programme is aimed at assisting farmers to minimise the loss of livestock, crops and different equipment through the use of technology.

Bulwane said farmers around Wepener, Ladybrand, Thaba Nchu, Botshabelo as well as areas along the Caledon River, Fouriesmith up to Bethlehem have been complaining a lot about stock theft.

The Intelligent Animal Tracking System is expected to help curb the growing problem of stock theft.

“We have been looking at ways to address this . . . at times we did spontaneous patrols using a police helicopter but it didn’t help much,” said Bulwane.

“We wanted something that could give a permanent solution to these problems.

“We then decided to use the drones so that the farmers are able to check on their cattle on their own.

“The system is linked to their cellphones and they keep track of their livestock from wherever they are.”

The drones will not be given to individual farmers but will be allocated to groups and operated by a qualified drone pilot.

The first beneficiaries of the initiative are emerging and large-scale farmers in the Mangaung Metro.

These include farmers in the commonages around Thaba Nchu and Botshabelo as well as commercial farmers from Wepener and Bainsvlei.

About R4.5 million has been allocated for this programme to support 156 farmers.

They will be provided with about 1 706 solar-powered livestock tracking devices.

At least 32 vehicles will also be fitted with the anti-hijack tracking devices.

The programme is set to be rolled out to other parts of the province soon.

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Deadly bird flu hits Free State



Staff Reporter

The Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has confirmed an outbreak of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

A statement released by the department’s spokesperson, Zimasa Leputla, says three cases were reported at three poultry farms in the province.

“Laboratory tests conducted gave a positive result, confirming the HPAI was found on those farms,” read part of the statement.

The virus was also recorded as an H5 virus which is known to be a high pathogenic strain.

The farms where the cases have been recorded are in Villiers, Parys and Wesselsbron.

“Whilst this virus is known to cause mortalities of up to 100 percent among susceptible poultry, not all of the current outbreaks are consistent with this scientific fact, as on some of these farms the mortality of birds was relatively low,” the department explained.

It said it had deployed its field veterinarians to attend to this outbreak and urged other field personnel to increase vigilance to ensure early detection and rapid response.

Poultry facilities across the province have also been advised to step up their biosecurity measures in order to help contain the spread of the disease.

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Bulwane wants Free State floods declared a disaster



Staff Reporter

Free State Agriculture and Rural Development MEC William Bulwane says he has asked the Department of Cooperative Governance to declare the flood-ravaged farming communities in the province disaster areas so that they can get dedicated support from the government and other organisations.

Bulwane told a virtual media briefing on Tuesday that farmers in several districts in the province urgently needed support as they have suffered extensive damage to their crops, infrastructure and inputs.

“We are in the process of engaging the provincial treasury for immediate financial relief and the Department of Cooperative Governance to declare the area disaster-stricken should the need arise,” he said.

Among the areas where farmers have suffered extensive losses are: Bultfontein, Hoopstad, Parys, Vredefort, Viljoenskroon, Heilbron, Bothaville, Wesselsbron, Kroonstad, Steynsrus, Bethullie, Reitz, Lindley, Bethlehem, Fouriesburg, Slabberts, some areas in Qwaqwa, Paul Roux, Clarens, Ficksburg, Marquard, Senekal, Kestell and Harrismith.

In some areas, farmers received up to 140mm of rain in a day resulting in the soils being saturated, leading to the floods.

One farmer, according to Bulwane, had an entire 400-hectare maize crop flooded and the farmer does not expect any meaningful harvest due to the excessive rains.

He could however not be drawn into giving an estimate of the losses incurred by farmers as well as damage to infrastructure such roads, bridges and other buildings.

“I wouldn’t want to thumb-suck a figure at this point. We are looking at it holistically,” said Bulwane.

“It’s not just the damage to crops that we are looking at. We are also looking at the damage to farm dwellings, the roads, the silos, equipment and other inputs damaged by the floods.

“We are working with a team of experts . . . you need a scientific formula to establish the extent of the damage.

“We expect those who are insured to be covered but we are also working closely with them to see how we can assist.”

The Disaster and Risk Management and Extension Services teams were deployed soon after the rains to assess the damage and compile a detailed report on the extent of the damage.

The provincial public works department is set to start working on collapsed low-lying bridges so that farming operations are not adversely affected.

The social development department has assisted at least eight affected households of farmworkers and farm dwellers.

A further 21 beneficiaries received food parcels, blankets and clothes.

No animals have been killed by the floods as most of them were moved to higher ground ahead of the heavy rains.

In some cases, however, police have had to use a helicopter to rescue animals trapped in low-lying areas.

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