Agricultural organisations have urged the sector to adhere to the preventative measures announced by Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa to contain the spread of Covid-19. Leaders urged farmers and other role players to collaborate in stopping all behaviours that contribute to the spreading of the Coronavirus.
Ramaphosa declared a national disaster and announced dramatic interventions, including travel restrictions and the closure of land and seaports. He also recommended that all mass events and celebrations be cancelled or postponed in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation.
Dr Vuyo Mahlathi, president of the African Farmer’s Association of South Africa (AFASA), says that while the organisation is impressed by the readiness of government, there was still great concern over the impact the disease would have on agricultural workers. “We are also very appreciative of the president in declaring (Covid–19) a national disaster. It signifies the urgency in which South Africa treats the matter.”
Mahlati says, “We however remain concerned in terms of the most vulnerable having access to the required sources of protection. We know that there is a problem in terms of availability of masks, sanitisers and particularly water in some parts of the country. We talk about having water to wash, but there is a problem with access to water. People don’t have water to drink, never mind water to wash hands.”
Agri SA deputy executive director Christo Van der Rheede shares Mahlathi’s concern and says that without agri-workers, agricultural productivity could take a massive hit. “From a social perspective we need to really take care of our people’s health. If workers get sick it’s going to impact productivity.”
Van der Rheede adds that Agri SA is “very worried about the economic impact, because we are big exporters of food to the rest of the world, and we are also big importers of goods like rice and so forth. This will have an impact on the availability of food and it might lead to an increase in food inflation.
“We are keeping a watchful eye over it. We just hope that we can contain the spread of the virus. It is the responsibility of everyone to make sure that we do not allow this virus to spread further.”
Many agriculture events cancelled
In the wake of Ramaphosa’s ban on social gatherings of more than 100 people to curb the spread of Covid-19, many of Mzansi’s major agricultural events have been cancelled or postponed.
- Royal Show: For the first time in 75 years, Africa’s largest mixed agricultural show hosted in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, the Royal Show, has opted to cancel the week-long proceedings. “Due to increased public concern to protect the health of stakeholders and visitors and in a response to the presidents directive that any organised mass gatherings over 100 persons is prohibited, the 2020 Royal show has been cancelled,” says Royal Show CEO, Terry Strachen.
- SA Cheese Festival: Heeding the call by the president, the council of Agri-Expo has taken the decision to cancel the 2020 South African Cheese Festival, which was due to take place in April in Stellenbosch. In a statement Agri-Expo CEO John Ehlers says, “The SA Cheese Festival annually provides a platform for cheesemakers and entrepreneurs from across the country to showcase their products. The cancellation of the SA Cheese Festival will have a definite economic impact.”
- Qualité Awards Dinner: The Qualité Awards Dinner of the 2020 South African Dairy Championships has been cancelled due to the national ban on gatherings of more than 100 people. The prestigious annual awards event of the SA dairy industry, organised by the council of Agri-Expo, was to be held in the Stellenbosch Town Hall on 26 March 2020. Ehlers says, “This large number of entries by 74 manufacturers in more than 100 different classes is still good news for the dairy industry, which is being hampered by challenges such as the ongoing drought and now also the Coronavirus.”
- Agri-Expo Western Cape Youth Show: This provincial event, scheduled to be held in Clanwilliam, has been cancelled until further notice. Chairman of the Western Cape Youth Show, Breyton Milford, said: “We want to adhere to the ban that the president has put in place so we have chosen not to risk the health of any of the children who were expected to attend. We are however hoping that the National Youth Show will still take place in September this year.”
- Clanwilliam Expo: The organisers of the Clanwilliam Expo announced in a Facebook post that the show was cancelled: “In light of the announcement with relation to the outbreak of the virus, it is with great sadness that we announce that the expo will not take place in April 2020 as expected.”
- Schools roadshow: The Food For Mzansi Agri Career Roadshow, which was due to take place during April and May this year, has been postponed. More than 20 000 learners from all nine provinces had already registered to attend the series of events where high schoolers will be introduced to the diversity of careers offered in agriculture.
- NAMPO Harvest Day: Grains SA’s annual event in Bothaville in the Free State has also taken a step back. In a tweet posted by the organisation, it said: “The impact of the measures and decisions by pres. Ramaphosa will determine whether NAMPO 2020 will continue on the scheduled date or postponed to a later date. Further information will be made available as soon as possible.”
- Free State Agriculture (FSA) Events: In an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, Free State Agriculture’s (FSA) Executive Committee has decided to postpone all events that were expected to take place in the month of March. “As the president suggested at the moment for thirty days we are postponing all events, after thirty days we will revisit and see,” says President of Free State Agriculture Francois Wilken.
This story was updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2020 to include the Free State Agriculture event cancellations.