“It is only God’s grace and love that still keeps me going. To be a testimony isn’t always easy nor pleasant, but God’s plan is always the better and best plan, both for my life and business.”
Ettiene van Wyk, a Northern Cape sheep farmer, says although he often feels defeated by the drought-ravaged region in which he farms, he simply has to push forward. This after government recently revoke the classification of drought as a national disaster – a move that has stunned the agricultural sector.
“It is hard to accept,” he tells Food For Mzansi, exhausted after three years of battling the worst drought in a century. “I foresee a difficult path ahead for us, as farmers, here in the province. Without government support it will be difficult to survive the drought.”
Van Wyk (35) farms in Marydale on a 3 800 hectare farm. When he first received land from government in 2015 through a long-term lease, there was no water nor electricity. Yet, the Grootfontein Agricultural College alumnus embraced the opportunity and quickly turned his farm into an agricultural success story.
The journey on the government land has been nothing but turbulent, he says, although he admittedly often questions his future in farming. “I made the best out of the opportunity I was given. It is by the grace of God that I am still here. I don’t know how much longer I can carry on…”
“One day, when the drought is broken, I will farm again, but for now we are only doing the basic things that need to be done.” – SHEEP FARMER Ettiene van Wyk
The relentless drought first hit his farm in 2018. Van Wyk says it hurts to watch many of his livestock die a slow, painful death caused by hunger. “The drought has affected me horribly. I am now struggling financially and get a little income from selling some of my livestock to keep the others alive.”
His farm is currently running at just half-capacity. Under normal circumstances, Van Wyk says that the farm would boast no less than 550 Dorper sheep. “I have had to sell some of my livestock. I must use a strict selection (to decide) which ewes I keep. Those that do not generate an income must be sold to alleviate the pressure on the farm.”
Meanwhile Agri SA describes government’s decision to terminate the national state of disaster to mitigate the effects of the drought as questionable.
“This type of ill-considered and reactionary announcement by the national disaster management centre boggles the mind,” says Willem Symington, head of the disaster management unit at the industry body.
He adds, “(Agri SA) wants to see the research and related data which led to the announcement that the declaration was repealed. If this is merely a question of shooting from the hip, heads must roll.”
Symington believes it is of grave of concern that government apparently ignored the fact that large parts of the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape continue to suffer from the effects of the longest drought in 100 years.
In a Government Gazette notice deputy director-general Dr Mmaphaka Tau says the decision came after the centre had reassessed the magnitude and severity of drought conditions in the country. According to Tau, government had also consulted the relevant provincial disaster management centres about its controversial decision.
Meanwhile in the Northern Cape, farmers who have raised concerns over their rejection in the covid-19 relief scheme by government may soon appeal the decision. In April, the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development announced that R1.2 billion would be set aside to alleviate the plight of farmers who had been directly impacted by the pandemic.
Small-scale and communal farmers throughout the country were set to benefit from a combined relief of R500 million. In the Northern Cape, 1 435 farmers benefitted from the scheme receiving a combined total amount of R42 million. On average, this amounts to about R29 000 per farmer whose businesses were negatively impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. Now a national appeal committee will be established.
Drought already killed local economies
South Africa has been listed as one of 30 most water-scarce countries in the world. The situation is worsening by the day, says farmers. The summer rainfall season has passed without sufficient rain in most of the Northern Cape regions where the drought has already debilitated local economies.
Earlier this week Food For Mzansi reported that Agri SA’s chairman for economics and trade centre of excellence, Nicol Jansen, also warned that the Northern Cape remain on its knees. “The drought disaster… is threatening the agricultural livelihoods of producers in the province who are net producers of red meat, wool and mohair.”