If the Free State government doesn’t urgently maintain and repair the province’s road network, economic activity might soon come to a grinding halt. Severe floods in the last two weeks have washed away the last remains of the dilapidated roads.
Pleading to the department of police, roads and transport, Free State Agriculture (FSA) warns not only are farmers struggling to transport their produce to markets, it is the poorest of the poor will pay the price for it.
FSA president Francois Wilken says, “Left unattended, farm dwellers such as pensioners and schoolchildren will not be able to access services, and clinics and ambulances won’t be able to access farms to deliver chronic medicine and transport critically ill patients.”
This, says Wilken, violates the basic human rights of rural citizens. Many of the roads are so bad that the operators of minibus taxis have long refused to transport people in certain towns. After the recent massive downpours, bad road conditions can lead to life-threatening injuries and death.
Reuben Motlhabane, a maize farmer, believes damage on his farm amounts to more than R1.5 million. He told the SABC, “The crops, the fields are full of water. The house is full of water. The storage (room) is full of water. Inside there was fertiliser which is now no more. I am in deep trouble now.”
Meanwhile Storm Report SA warns Free State residents of more heavy rainfall in the southern parts of the province. Flooding is expected in the towns of Koffiefontein, Fauresmith, Luckhoff, Trompsburg, Philippolis, and Bethulie.
“There is an urgent request for equipment such as graders and tractor loader backhoes to be made available. The aged state yellow fleet is basically grounded due to poor maintenance,” says Wilken, noting that farmers are trying their best to repair some roads themselves.
“However, we would need financial and material support to stave off further disaster. Material such as bitumen, concrete, culvert pipes and diesel for farmers’ equipment doing the repairs are (also) needed.”
Agriculture sustains local economies and jobs across the province through a complex value chain of economic activities, says Roy Jankiehlson, the DA’s leader in the Free State.
“The state of many roads in the province comprise a local disaster that will seriously impact on their ability to deliver and access goods and services, as well as get access to emergency and other services.
“The economic impact of the floods, and the poor state of the local roads and infrastructure require priority intervention from government.”
Northern Cape on high alert for floods
Meanwhile Mase Manopole, Northern Cape MEC for agriculture, environmental affairs, land reform and rural development, issued flood alert warnings to communities around the Vaal and Orange River systems.
Some parts of the province received between 50 and 100 millimetre rain in the past two weeks, says the South African Weather Service.
Manopole confirms to Food For Mzansi that the Northern Cape’s disaster management teams are on high alert. They have put measures in place to avoid loss of human lives, livestock and damage to property. Communities are also urged to avoid swimming in nearby streams as this could lead to drowning.
The rains in the drought-stricken regions of ZF Mgcawu, Namakwa and Pixley ka Seme are welcomed, says Manopole.
Livestock, grain and game farmers in the Namakwa and ZF Mgcawu regions should, however, be especially cautious and shelter animals, water pumps and farming equipment to avoid damage and losses.
If left unattended, Manopole warns, the floods will damage the irrigation infrastructure which could hamper food production.
Also, farming communities are encouraged to use rainwater harvesting methods, including rain barrels, cistern installation and rainwater gardens, to save water for future usage.
Eastern Cape crop damage
Heavy rains and a hailstorm has also left farmers in parts of the Eastern Cape in low spirits after severe damage was reported on apple, pear and stone fruit orchards. Nearly 30% of the pome fruit production area in the Langkloof, Uniondale, Ongelegen, Misgund and parts of Haarlem were affected.
Hortgro’s representative in the Langkloof, a 160km valley between Herold and The Heights, says the damage differs from farm to farm. Farmers are still battling to assess the full extent of the destruction already described as a “massive loss”.