Farmers in the eastern parts of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal are fearing severe crop damage as tropical storm Eloise continues to wreak havoc through heavy rains and strong winds.
The storm, which initially hit Madagascar and Mozambique as a cyclone, was downgraded when it lost its strength just before it hit Mzansi, according to the South African Weather Service (SAWS).
In Mozambique, Eloise left behind a trail of destruction. It left at least 7 000 people displaced while destroying 9 schools, 11 hospitals and thousands of hectares of crops.
Eloise will only lose its strength by Wednesday, says the SAWS. When Eloise hit South Africa last Saturday, wind speeds of up to 160 km/h were measured. At the moment, the wind and rain are less severe, but further flooding is inevitable.
‘We are very nervous’
Mahlahlo Thibela, a spinach farmer from Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga, tells Food For Mzansi he is extremely anxious after Eloise’s weather impact started damaging his crops.
“I don’t want to lie. We are feeling very nervous,” he says. Mpumalanga and Limpopo are battling as many have been left homeless after their roofs were blown off and walls collapsed.
In Limpopo, the Vhembe district has recorded severe damage with shocking pictures of residents carrying coffins while crossing a flooding river emerging on social media. Many towns have been cut off from electricity too.
“We are so worried that we might wake up in the morning and our spinach would be destroyed,” says Thibela.
“If we had nets, maybe our spinach would be protected, but we can’t even do that because the ground is too wet. We just planted this spinach, and it will be a loss if it ends up getting destroyed even further.”
Limpopo farmer Avhapfani “Chillyboy” Rathando is relieved that he has not suffered damage to his infrastructure or crops. He fears, however, that this could change as vast areas of the province is already flooded, with many roads washed away.
“It would be very bad if the rain and damaging winds lasted for more than five days,” says Rathando who farms with vegetables in Thohoyandou.
“I hope that doesn’t happen. Thankfully for now, the damages (around me) are only on the roads.”
‘What if dams start overflowing?’
Agri Limpopo chief executive Deidré Carter confirms to Food For Mzansi that farmers in this province received between 80mm and 200mm rain on average.
At the time of speaking to Food For Mzansi late on Monday afternoon, farmers in Limpopo have not reported any damage to crops or infrastructure to Agri Limpopo, says Carter.
“The real concern is with some of the dam levels which have risen between 60% and 89% within, like, 12 hours. Some dams have reached up to 100%.
“What will happen if the dams actually start overflowing? This will lead to masses of water, and that is what we just hope is not going to happen.”
Looming food crisis
While the exact scale of Eloise’s impact is yet to fully unfold, Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agbiz, says early indications are that Mozambique could already be facing another food crisis.
Sihlobo, however, remains optimistic about Eloise’s impact on food security in Mzansi. The local agricultural sector, primarily staple grains, should remain mostly unaffected, he predicts.
“The SAWS indicates possible destructive winds, mainly in the eastern regions of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The horticultural fields in these areas, however, could be affected,” he says in Agbiz’s weekly agricultural note.
On average, Mozambique imports roughly 139 000 tonnes of maize, 632 000 tonnes of rice, and 729 000 tonnes of wheat per year to fulfil its domestic needs, according to data from the United States department of agriculture.
However, under a scenario of minimal damage in South Africa’s grain-producing regions, Sihlobo says the Southern Africa region will have sufficient supplies from South Africa and Zambia.
“The 16.50 million tonnes of maize that we estimate for South Africa far outstrip the annual consumption of 11.4 million tonnes, meaning that there could be over 2.0 million tonnes of maize for the export market.
“Such volumes will fulfil the needs of affected areas of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi if such a need arises,” says Sihlobo.
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