KZN floods: Can sugarcane farmers get back up?

How do you restart an industry after so many resources were simply washed away? This is the overwhelming challenge now facing sugarcane growers after the devastating KZN floods

Washed away fields and soil are among the damages on KwaZulu-Natal farms. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Washed away fields of sugarcane, severe soil erosion and damaged roads are among the devastation being dealt with on farms in flood-ravaged KwaZulu-Natal. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Destroyed or flooded farm buildings, loss of crops, severe damage to access roads and delayed sugar cane deliveries. These are some of the devastating ramification’s sugar cane farmers in KwaZulu-Natal report following floods that ripped through parts of the province six weeks ago.

Many farmers are still not able to access their farms, with the sugar industry reported to have lost more than R223 million so far. Getting a view of the full extent of the damage to their fields is still difficult, the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda) said.

This is mainly due to the ground still being too wet for driving as a result of ongoing rain in some parts of the province and many collapsed farm bridges.

The CEO of the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda), Dr Siyabonga Madlala. Photo: Supplied/Safda

Since the start of the floods Safda has been collecting information from farmers. They point out that more than 450 farmers have reported their topsoil washing away due to the floods.

Safda’s executive chair, Dr Siyabonga Madlala, told Food For Mzansi that most farmers experienced water logging.

“[This resulted] in damage to the root and leaching of inputs for farmers who had put fertilizer and chemicals on their crop. Other famers experienced total loss of crop as soil erosion took place in their fields,” he said.

Most erosion of farm fields were reported in the iLembe District Municipality and The King Cetshwayo District Municipality. For these farmers immediate support was provided, Madlala said.

Farmers also reported cash and subsistence crops such as vegetables being destroyed. Mostly small-scale farmers who depend on these kinds of crops for cash and consumption lost not only on their business but household food as well.

Farmers in irrigated areas also experienced severe damages on irrigation infrastructure, he said, This was as pipes and pumps were eroded.

Erosion of farm fields were reported on 453 farms throughout the province. Photo: Supplied/Safda

“To confirm the extent of the damage the services of engineers and technicians will be required before determining the cost of repairs,” said Madlala.

ALSO READ: Floods: Climate change ‘scapegoat for government failures’

Workers left without shelter

Farmers have also reported severe damage to farm buildings. A total of 38 farms reported damage to property of which 18 were in the iLembe district municipality, eight in eThekwini and eight in King Cetshwayo. Only three farms reported damage in the Ugu district municipality and one in Umkhanyakude.

Madlala said, “a lot of farmers reported to have had their farm buildings damaged by the rain and others completely flooded.

“This means that there are no more farmhouses in other instances and farm workers’ shelter for some. The intervention required in this, and other similar instances is to assist with rebuilding farmhouses and farm workers’ quarters.”

Access roads to farms as well as infield roads were also not spared from the devastation. Safda said that because bridges also collapsed it made it driving into the farms and extracting produce impossible.

“This poses a serious threat which will last beyond the rains. When the rain is over mills will open and farmers [will] be expected to deliver their cane produce for crushing. This will not be possible before the collapsed farm bridges and roads are repaired,” Madlala cautioned.

“Small-scale growers [are] most impacted since their fields which are furthest from the sugar mills are located in communal areas where road access is difficult.”

Safda have submitted proposals to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and various government departments for assistance.

The IDC recently approved Safda’s proposal to assist farmers that were affected by the July unrest last year and Madlala is hoping that the development finance institution will consider the new proposal that was recently submitted.

ALSO READ: ‘Patel, don’t forget sugarcane Master Plan commitments’

Sign up for Farmer’s Inside Track: Join our exclusive platform for new entrants into farming and agribusiness, with newsletters and podcasts.