Terrifying images of floods wreaking havoc have emerged from KwaZulu-Natal. Food producers have not been spared. Washed away cane fields and soil, damaged farmhouses and workshop buildings have already been reported as among the damages, while the destruction of major roads and the closure of the Durban port are of grave concern to the agricultural sector.
Already, almost 50 lives have been lost as some parts of the province received months’ worth of rain in a matter of hours. Businesses stand flooded between collapsed roads and washed away bridges and settlements.
KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) CEO Sandy la Marque says the midlands and coastal regions are the most affected, reports Food For Mzansi journalist Tiisetso Manoko. News of more places hit by heavy rains might still come in, however.
“With the severe devastation of infrastructure, roads and bridges, the passage of goods and services is highly restricted. Access to relevant drop-off and collection points for agricultural products and supplies which are time sensitive will impact directly on the sector,” she says.
La Marque says the impact will be felt over weeks to come.
Delays at a critical time for sugarcane farmers
Dr Siyabonga Madlala, executive chairperson of the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda), says that sugarcane farmers have been severely hit.
Duncan Masiwa reports that this comes at an extremely difficult time as farmers were busy transporting sugar to the province’s mills.
“Sugar mills just reopened in March. [Now] rainy weather has forced farmers to stop transporting their sugarcane,” Madlala says.
At the time of speaking to Food For Mzansi, Safda has been informed of washed away cane fields, other cane fields being covered in sand, water-logged fields, in-field road damage, heavy soil erosion, gravel roads that have been washed away and damaged farm houses and workshop buildings.
To add to the devastation, Madlala says, some of the affected farmers were still recovering from a similar flood which had hit them in December 2021 and had caused damage on many farms.
Farmers are furthermore still reeling from the devastation of the unrest in July 2021 during which farms had been set alight and harvested sugarcane rejected by sugar mills. Farming equipment and machinery had been destroyed and employment disrupted. “Growers lost millions of rand as a result of the unrest. [Plus,] exorbitant fuel price increases thus far are not making life easy for our farmers,” Madlala says.
Work ceased at Durban port
Operations at the Durban port have stopped as roads and bridges were washed away by masses of water.
In a statement released by Maersk, the shipping company reports no infrastructure damage to vessels or containers within the Durban container terminal. However, at the container gates, warehouses and cargo are potentially damaged and operations as well as terminal operations are suspended until further notice.
It is also reported that the N2 freeway is blocked by empty containers that got swept onto the road, while empty container stacks collapsed as bottom containers shifted in rising water levels.
La Marque says collapsed infrastructure will delay the delivery of various products like inputs used in agriculture. “Without good infrastructure and basic service delivery, the impact will continue to be severe, stifling growth, employment, investment and export opportunities.
“This most recent disaster which has befallen KwaZulu-Natal continues to demonstrate how fragile the agricultural sector is, and the importance of preventative measures, maintenance, economic nodes, and corridors being identified and being prioritised.”
La Marque says agricultural and economic transport corridors are spread across the province, so heavy rains will negatively affect the entire value chain and the industry as a whole.
“Kwanalu believes it is critical that high-level, multi-stakeholder processes including agriculture are undertaken to ensure that food security, employment and goods and services are able to flow across the province,” she adds.
Safda advises farmers to remain cautious and to be safe. The organisation will be writing to various government departments and stakeholders for assistance for those who are affected by the floods.
Meanwhile, other provinces like the Free State, North West, Gauteng, the Northern and Eastern Cape, as well as the highveld region of Mpumalanga, have also been it by some rainy and cold conditions. The South African Weather Service warns that disruptive rainfall will continue, possibly throughout Easter weekend in several parts of the country.
Mop-up operations and damage assessments are expected to start fully only in a few days’ time.
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