NATIONAL NEWS - At least 896 state farms measuring 700 0000 hectares in the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, and North West are underutilised or vacant, minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza announced on Thursday.
The minister said these underutilised or idle farms will be made available to the public, with her department expected to issue advertisement notices for the occupation of the land in the next two weeks.
Government offers a 30-year leasehold, with an option to buy, and this form of leasehold places certain obligations to the State as the lessor and beneficiaries as the lessees.
She explained that all beneficiaries who have been 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,” the minister said.
Terms of the lease agreement states that it cannot be transferred under any circumstances, the beneficiary will not be allowed to sub-lease or sublet a portion of land or the whole farm under the lease held between then and the state, the beneficiary has an obligation to maintain all the infrastructure and upkeep of the land allocated.
The beneficiary will also be responsible for the management, maintenance of the farm, as well as record keeping of assets received from the state and that investments made by the beneficiary must be recorded, valued, and reported to the state.
Beneficiaries will pay a monthly or annual rental fee per hectare determined by the State, consistent with the value of the land in line with area valuation, and a credit management system will be put in place to manage debt recovery and management.
Failure to comply with any of the contractual obligations could result in the termination of the lease agreement.
Government’s obligations to the beneficiaries are to enter into a lease agreement with the beneficiary 30 days after the approval of the application, ensure that basic infrastructure is in good shape, and register the infrastructure and assets on the farm.
The government should also issue monthly invoices to the beneficiary with payment due date, undertake quarterly inspection visits by the Land Administration Unit to ensure that State infrastructure and assets were well kept, and table annual reports on the performance of the lease and productivity of the land to the minister.
Didiza said unsuccessful applicants will have an opportunity to register their appeals to the Land Allocation Appeals Committee.
The minister said a land inquiry process will be instituted on state land occupied without formal approval from the department, saying the inquiry will assess farms that have been acquired through Pro Active Land Acquisition (PLAS) programme.
“The land enquiry will investigate and determine how individuals and communities that are currently occupying the land got access to it. The enquiry will also look at how the land is currently being utilised and whether such use is in accordance with the agricultural practices for the area. Where such land has been used for settlement, assessment will be done, together with the departments of human settlement and water affairs, environmental, forestry and fisheries,” the minister said.
She said since the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his February 2020 State of the Nation Address, the department has released 135 117 hectares of land to 275 farmers.
About 360 173 hectares was identified through the State Land analysis to be under claim equating to 413 properties and that 43 670 hectares equating to 60 properties were new order claims, a process which had been interdicted by the constitutional court.
At least 4 089 hectares equating to 7 properties have already been transferred to beneficiaries of land claims.
According to the department, research has been concluded on 4558 hectares equating to 10 properties and will be finalized in due course and 117 000 hectares was currently under research for the 2020/21 financial year.
A total of 30 823 hectares equating to 46 properties related to land claims have been settled and yet to be transferred in the current financial year, with the remaining hectares to be transferred as soon as the claims were settled.