KWAZULU-Natal Finance MEC Ravi Pillay says the multi-million rand planting season programme led by the provincial Department of Agriculture will play a significant role in addressing the challenge of food insecurity in the province and can serve as a catalyst for economic growth.Pillay was speaking at the uMgungundlovu District launch of the 2019 planting season programme. The province-wide R160-million programme was initially launched by Premier Sihle Zikalala in Ndumo last week. MECs were then mandated to launch the programme in various districts in a bid to ensure that the programme’s impact is felt throughout KZN.Through this programme, the provincial government will help emerging farmers by supplying production inputs (such as fertiliser, seeds and chemicals) and also availing mechanisation services.“The programme has potential to create 500 job opportunities during and post operations. The programme further provides opportunities for the use of SMMEs to provide mechanisation services,” Pillay said.Farmers will also receive help with the marketing of their produce through the Radical Agrarian Socio-Economic Transformation programme (RASET) and other outlets. The programme targets 16 162 hectares of land across all districts. Of those, 760 hectares are in the uMgungundlovu District.The MEC said agriculture has a significant role to play in KZN’s quest to be the number one province in terms of economic growth. He said the rural parts of the province have the potential of turning into sites of economic activity.“It will, no doubt, go a long way towards addressing issues of food security in this region and will also contribute to the reduction of unemployment,” he said.Pillay was encouraged by the many smallholder farmers in the area. One such farmer is 65-year-old Sibongile Khanyile, who started as a subsistence farmer in 2000 and now, as a smallholder farmer, is able to make an income from the surplus she produces.She is one of the beneficiaries of the programme.Pillay said it was encouraging to see that about 60% of the beneficiaries of the programme are women. “Through this programme, we want not to only create vibrant agricultural communities, but we also want to promote the participation of women in the agricultural sector.“It gives me great pleasure to note that of 8 041 beneficiaries across the province, about 60% [or 4 849] are women,” Pillay said.— Supplied.