While small-scale farmers in Mthatha worry about how they will rebuild their lives physically and financially after the deadly tornado that ripped through parts of the Eastern Cape, agricultural leaders are concerned about its effect on food production, food security and the local economy.
In the early evening hours of 17 November 2020 a severe weather phenomenon that has been described as a tornado moved through several villages in the province. The high winds destroyed everything in its path. Thousands of villagers were displaced and hundreds of homes were destroyed.
Of the three fatalities, one was a child. Dozens of people were taken to the hospital.
According to Neo Masithela, chairperson of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa), a disaster of this nature holds potentially negative impacts on production, food security, and the local economy.
“When a farmer loses some of their crops or infrastructure due to a natural disaster, it derails the farmer away from his or her plans and projections. This is a huge problem,” he says.
With the festive season fast approaching, Masithela reckons farmers in the area will find themselves in a pickle in meeting market demands.
What is weighing farmers down even further is the average seasonal rainfall (September to March) in parts of the Eastern Cape, which seems to have dropped by more than half.
According to professor Raymond Auerbach, associate professor for soil science and plant production at Nelson Mandela University, seasonal rainfall at 16 locations in the province dropped over the past 20 years from an average of 624 in 1996 to an average of 380 mm in 2016.
“As a seasonal rainfall of at least 500 mm is required to produce most rainfed arable crops, this change, due to anthropogenic (caused by humanity) climate change, will make thousands of farmers more vulnerable to crop failure,” he states.
Weather patterns in EC a cause of concern
Chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), Wandile Sihlobo, says they are also worried about the devastation caused by heavy winds. This is primarily in the eastern regions of the country.
“So far, however, we have only received anecdotal evidence of destruction in relatively small farms in the Eastern Cape. We continue to closely monitor weather events in other parts of the country.
“We are in a La Niña year and could continue experiencing heavy rainfall in various parts of the country in the coming months,” Sihlobo stated in his weekly agricultural market viewpoint.
Meanwhile, Masithela reckons that the ball has landed in the state’s court. He says they should step in to provide some relief to the affected farmers.
“These farmers will not be able to come out of this thing now, so the state must be able to help. I would suggest that the state relooks into what is the best mechanism to help particularly farmers who will not be able to come out of this storm on their own,” the Afasa leader states.
He goes on further to say that as Afasa, they believe the disaster regulations should be helping farmers in general, but black farmers and emerging farmers in particular.
Department assessing agricultural damage
Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform spokesperson, Ayongezwa Lungisa, tells Food For Mzansi that they are currently working on a way forward to assist farmers.
“The department is currently engaged with the assessment of agricultural damage. Once the assessment is complete, we will then outline how the department will respond,” Lungisa says.