The sugarcane farmers of KwaZulu-Natal report collective damages of more than R300 million. Not only were crops and farm infrastructure washed away in raging floodwaters, but some farmers will need to replant their fields completely as root rot sets in in waterlogged fields.
The South African Farmers Development Association (Safda) released a report late yesterday afternoon, saying that its members have lost R49 million’s worth of crops and R42 million in infrastructure such as buildings, farm roads and irrigation systems. The report came just hours after Canegrowers SA released its damage estimate of R223 million.
Safda executive chairperson Dr Siyabonga Madlala says that the report is preliminary as the organisation’s mostly small-scale farmers are continuously reporting more damages.
Some farmers have lost all of their cane or cash crops as more than 1 500 hectares of fields and soil have been washed away. “For these farmers, the appropriate intervention will be a complete replant,” the report says. “At an estimated cost of R32 000 per hectare for replanting, this amounts to a total of R49 million.”
Most of Safda’s farmers have to deal with waterlogging, which is now causing root rot and leaching of inputs from the soil. Inputs such as fertiliser and chemicals were also swept from storage facilities.
A further worry is the total crop loss for cash and subsistence farmers who had planted vegetables and now have no food for household consumption or to sell for cash. The association hopes that assistance with seedlings, fertiliser and food parcels will relieve these families’ immediate needs.
Damage to small-scale farmers’ infrastructure
Although engineers and technicians are yet to do assessments and calculations, the Safda farmers’ estimate of their infrastructure loss is R42 million.
In many areas, farm roads, in-field roads and bridges are too damaged to navigate. “This poses a serious threat which will last beyond the rainy season. When the rain is over, mills will open and farmers will be expected to deliver their cane produce from crushing. This will not be possible before the collapsed farm bridges and roads are repaired.
“Farmers in irrigated areas have experienced severe damages as pipes and pumps were eroded. [And] a lot of farmers reported to have had their farm buildings damaged by the rain and others were completely flooded,” says Madlala.
SA Canegrowers lose over R200 million
The SA Canegrowers Association released a separate report yesterday morning, saying that its survey of member farmers in rural KwaZulu-Natal painted a similar picture to that of Safda: extensive damage to cane fields, farm infrastructure and access routes which allow growers to deliver their cane to mills, to obtain inputs and to transport workers.
Over 300 growers had responded to the survey and reported over 2 500 hectares of extensive crop and root damage. All of these fields will need to be replanted. Crop damage comes to an estimated R195 million, while farm infrastructure to the value of R28 million has been destroyed.
“This catastrophic damage comes just as many cane growers are starting to recover from the riots and arson attacks that took place in July last year,” says Thomas Funke, SA Canegrowers CEO. The unrest saw over half a million tonnes of cane being burnt and brought about R84 million in losses.
“It is clear that this latest tragedy could be the final death knell for hundreds of cane growers and the rural livelihoods they support. In particular, small-scale growers are most at risk of not recovering from losses of this magnitude.”
SA Canegrowers has submitted a report to the departments of agriculture, land reform and rural development, and trade, industry and competition, and says it welcomes the national state of disaster and mobilisation of more resources to the province. “It is vital that these plans include assistance for the sugar industry, which provides more than one million livelihoods where they are desperately needed in rural communities,” the CEO adds.
“SA Canegrowers remains committed to working closely with government to ensure critical relief is provided to growers severely impacted by the recent catastrophic events. With our industry continuing to face a number of challenges including the influx of cheap imports and the health promotion levy, we need to do all we can to assist these growers to rebuild so they continue to support the workers and communities who depend on them. “
Provincial government assesses damages
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal department of agriculture and rural development, Zethu Ndlovu, says the department is busy with its own assessment of farm damage across the province. Its latest available figure is R68 million, reports Food For Mzansi journalist Zolani Sinxo.
“We are still having challenges to reach other areas as they are not accessible due to roads being damaged. We also can’t collect information due to network challenges.
“A preliminary report has been prepared and submitted to the provincial disaster management centre for consolidation of sector inputs.”
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