KWAZULU-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development MEC Themba Mthembu said this year his department will be planting at least 16 310 hectares of land and creating employment for over 500 rural communities for crop management, harvesting and tractor operations.Mthembu expects that 10 320 local communities will benefit. On Tuesday, Mthembu launched a multi-planting season at the Mfundeni Sports Ground, KwaJali village in Harding. “We are launching this year’s multi-planting season on a communal estate called Naseni-Mkhoba, which occupies over 70 hectares of land, and over 50% of its members are females. They plant mainly maize and sell to Ingeli Mills in Harding and local markets,” he said.Mthembu said maize is the country’s most important crop as is the main source of carbohydrates, a source of livestock feed, and an export crop which is used mostly in rural communities. He said his department will also contribute in helping farmers to produce nuts and potatoes.“During this multi-planting season, the department will support subsistence and small holder farmers using two methods of mechanisation, which are government-owned tractors to give support to various districts throughout the province, and contract service providers who will render ploughing and planting services to farmers.“Even though the mechanisation has yielded positive results and contributed in improving food production in KwaZulu Natal, there have been challenges such as a lack of technical skills, inadequate mechanisation training facilities, an uncoordinated approach to mechanisation support and a high incidence of breakdowns of tractors,” he elaborated.He promised to pay attention to rural projects that are erecting fencing, boreholes, grazing camps, dam scooping and dip tanks and asked stakeholders to support initiatives run by the department.Local farmers thanked the MEC for supporting agriculture, while Umuziwabantu Local Municipality mayor Dixie Nciki called for rural women and youth to participate in agriculture.