Following countless, urgent requests from farmers across the country, a drought disaster was declared for three provinces. While this unlocks financial support for suffering farmers, the exact details remain sketchy.
Besides the Eastern Cape, the National Disaster Management Centre has also declared a drought disaster in the Western Cape and Northern Cape. Residents in parts of these provinces are battling the worst drought in at least a century.
Speaking to Food For Mzansi, Doug Stern, president of Agri Eastern Cape, expressed his delight over the drought disaster declaration.
He is particularly grateful to Agri SA who has been putting great pressure on authorities to achieve this.
“This is going to mean a lot for us as a province. Having declared the area as a drought disaster is one thing, but some assistance must be added to this so that farmers can be helped,” Stern says.
The protracted drought already had a devastating impact on the Eastern Cape, he adds. While the eastern part of the province had sufficient rains, the western part has been engulfed in crisis.
“We have to focus on the western part. Recently, we have had locust that have taken the little bit of grazing that we’ve had. The animal numbers that farmers have left, need to be kept alive,” says Stern.
“They need assistance because financially these farmers are ruined. This is the seventh consecutive year with way below average rainfall. Feed for these farmers would go a long way.”
‘We continue to pray’
These sentiments are echoed by East London dairy farmer Siviwe Tikana.
He tells Food For Mzansi, “At the moment, I spend more on feed because I do not have enough grass. We get no rain.
“My dams are empty, and we are currently pumping at our last dam and even that is at about 60%. There has been some rain forecasted, but it’s not enough. But we continue to pray.”
Meanwhile, farmers are worried that the Eastern Cape provincial government is not taking sufficient action to address the unfolding water crisis.
Nelson Mandela Bay is set to become the first metro in South Africa that will incur major water shortages when storage dams run dry. The combined capacity for these storage dams is expected dip this week, with estimates being that the first dam will run dry within the next 21 days.
Kouga Local Municipality, which is dependent on water from the Kouga dam, is also expected to face severe water challenges.
Stern says, currently, the Gamtoos and Langkloof valleys are also experience “massive drought and water shortages because it has not rained.”
These fruitful valleys are known for its citrus, deciduous fruit and noteworthy agricultural employment initiatives.
“The drought will have a major impact if it does not start raining soon. There will be massive socio-economic problems because unemployment will soar,” says Stern.
“Government has not built a dam or raise a dam wall in this country for years. The time has now come for them to realise that we have to start damming up. When we get rain, we get it in abundance but then so much water flows into the sea. We need bigger storage capacity to be able to ride the droughts out for a long time.”
Further details required
Agri SA commends government for declaring a drought disaster.
Willem Symington, the agricultural federation’s chairperson of the natural resources centre of excellence, describes it as a “positive step” by the state to recognise the plight of suffering farmers.
He says, “We hope there will be sufficient action and assistance to help the agricultural sector and local economies in support to cope with the effects of the catastrophic drought.”
However, Agri SA’s risk and disaster manager, Andrea Campher, points out that bureaucratic red tape and insufficient budgets for drought relief had severely impacted agriculture.
According to Campher it has “deprived farmers and farmworkers in the drought-stricken areas of their livelihoods. But despite this, we are positive that national resources will be made available to address the disaster.”
Jannie Strydom, chief executive of Agri Western Cape, looks forward to further details on how drought-stricken farmers will be helped.
“Agri Western Cape trusts that [producers in the Matzikama district and Central and Little Karoo] will receive support. The type of aid that will be provided is not yet clear, but drought relief in the form of animal feed and pasture seeds will be welcomed. In certain areas, a holistic approach to water security must also be considered,” Strydom states.