Officials stallingon farm project— grower

2010-01-06 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture has been accused of sabotaging a community farming initiative in Sweetwaters by not removing alien plants to make way for the project.

Thulani Bhengu, an aspiring farmer from Sweetwaters and the founder of the Sweetwaters Opportunities Unlimited-Prospects, said that since 2006, he has been trying in vain to get the department to remove the alien plants.

He said the land ,which measures 2ha, has a stream that makes it a prime location for the project.

“When the idea of this project was first discussed, the community got involved … and one of the members donated his land so we could use it for the project,” said Bhengu.

“We encountered a problem that the area had large gum trees that were using up all the water in the stream.”

Bhengu, who has since moved the project to his own yard and now farms a variety of crops, including mealies, cabbages, spinach and flowers, said the department initially agreed to assist, but has since sent him from pillar to post.

“They promised to cut down the trees and I am still waiting. To date they have given me about five dates when they will be coming. The last one was in October.”

He said the failure to remove the trees has not only stalled the project, but also caused tension between him and the community members who now suspect that he used them to secure funding for himself.

“I started the project with the understanding that this will be a community project, but because of the poor response from the department, I was forced to go at this alone and now the community suspects I duped them and used them to secure money for myself.”

Bhengu said he was even contemplating quitting the project altogether.

A spokeswoman for the department, Ncumisa Mafunda, said that although it is aware of the application, it has not made a commitment to remove the trees. “There are procedures to be followed, and the department cannot do this alone … we will have to involve the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry,” she said.

 

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