Farmers are experiencing incessant drought disaster blues and the primary forces behind this are allegedly a lack of drought disaster budgeting and South Africa’s farming sector not always being prioritised in drought management.
The National Disaster Management Centre classified the ongoing Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape drought as a national disaster two months ago. Yet farmers and affected communities say they have not seen any support from government.
Farming operations in these provinces have been decimated, with many owners being forced to purchase feed for livestock as almost no natural grazing is available. In many instances this has financially ruined farmers and their farming operations.
Veld conditions are reportedly so poor in some areas that game have started dying due to malnutrition. Boreholes and fountains have dried up and have compelled people to cart water around, both for domestic use and for livestock.
The disaster declaration by National Disaster Management Centre head Dr Mmaphaka Tau on 20 July, was meant to unlock financial support for suffering farmers.
No budget to assist in disaster areas
According to Agri SA’s head of risk management, Andrea Campher, the problem is straightforward: inadequate budgeting for drought disaster. Furthermore, the agricultural sector is not always prioritised in disaster management.
“One of the biggest risks we see, is that there is not enough data available on past disasters to determine the extent of the next disaster. It’s government’s responsibility to make sure that disaster aid is provided to affected people, or to the agricultural sector (in this case farmers and farmworkers),” Campher tells Food For Mzansi.
In response to questions she had posed to the National Disaster Management Centre, Dr Tau confirmed that there was no indication of an allocation from National Treasury yet. This is seemingly because government departments are still busy reprioritising their budgets following the declaration, and the national fiscus being hugely stretched due to Covid-19.
Campher explains that a disaster declaration is valid for three months after publication. In these months, provincial and local governments should reprioritise their budgets to see how they can assist with disaster aid. A month therefore remains before the disaster declaration lapses.
“I suspect at this stage, because we have not received any communication from the national department as yet, that they are still reprioritising budgets and also busy with analyses as to the extent of the drought and the financial impact it has on the sector.”
The solution would be bigger budget allocations, says Campher, but dysfunctionality within provincial and local governments remains a problem.
Help from elsewhere
In the meantime, farmers have had to rely on donations from the private sector, fellow farmers who could assist with fodder and feed, and other good Samaritans.
According to Agri Eastern Cape’s acting manager for natural resources and water affairs, Megan Maritz, a total of R16 million has been raised by the public and other farmers to assist those in need in the province. “We have had no help from the department (and) previous requests from Agri EC to the department have not been fruitful.”
No functional farmer database
Maritz reckons part of the problem in this province is poor communication and regulation by the department. “No creditable farmer database exists and the money that is made available ends up with non-farmers exploiting the system,” she says.
The province has been grappling with a prolonged drought since 2014. A provincial state of disaster responding to the drought was last declared in October 2019.
Since this declaration had lapsed, the drought has reportedly tightened its grip on the western side of the province. Organised agriculture states that the need there has become even greater.
Members of the public are encouraged to contribute to existing disaster funds so that farmers, especially livestock producers, can be assisted.
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