Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza says as part of government’s economic stimulus package, the department will provide input vouchers to subsistence farmers to retain jobs.

Didiza said this when she, along with Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille, briefed the media on the pillars of the economic reconstruction and recovery plans for their respective departments.

“The department will ensure the retention of jobs through self-employment by subsistence farmers through input vouchers.

“The target will be those subsistence producers who are producing at household level in peri-urban and rural areas with a maximum land size between a quarter to one hectares,” she said.

Didiza said the department is working with mobile giant Vodacom with a view to open applications as soon as next month, where farmers will be able to use their phones to apply for the vouchers to eliminate paperwork.

This was building from the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic had illustrated the importance of both commercial and smallholder producers in safeguarding food security and promoting self-employment in rural and peri-urban areas.

COVID-19 regulations, which led to the country being put on lockdown alert level 5 by the end of March, demonstrated the significance of a supportive policy environment as these regulations provided a crucial insulation and boosted the resilience of the food system.

The Minister said the regulations showed the centrality of the informal market traders in localising and distributing food to low income households that live hand-to-mouth on a daily basis.

“Working with social partners, the department is working with the Solidarity Fund initiative [and] traditional councils on interventions that focuses on communal farming areas to support small-scale and substance farmers to promote self-employment and support food security,” she said.

Didiza said the department, working with the Land Bank, had commenced with relief funding applications for commercial farmers that are in distress to save jobs and provide relief.

The additional investment in Land Bank announced by the Minister of Finance is welcomed, she said, as it will ensure that farmers will receive assistance during the current agriculture calendar.

“The department is upscaling eight production schemes to expand commercial production and processing using a district-based commodity value chain development approach, which will stimulate mass employment.”   

Didiza said, meanwhile, that the department of agriculture, working with security and social clusters, is developing a regulatory framework to enable commercial cultivation of hemp and cannabis by next year.

As part of implementing an effective land reform programme and inclusive growth, the department has developed a beneficiary selection and land allocation policy as well as the comprehensive producer support policy, which are guiding the rapid release of land for production of food and the provision of finances to farmers.

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