Dilapidated infrastructure, veld fires, climate change and slow reaction times from government are threatening the booming grape and raisin industry in the Northern Cape. Farmers say many jobs have been lost already and without swift intervention, more jobs are at stake.
Northern Cape agriculture, environmental affairs, rural development and land reform MEC Mase Manopole learned during a recent tour of the province of bridges that had collapsed, hectares of land that had been destroyed by fire, jobs on the brink of being lost and the ailing economy of many small towns.
Grape farmer Martin van Rooi also told Food For Mzansi that he had experienced heavy rains. A portion of his farm was swept away when the Kanoneiland bridge was also submerged during recent rains in the province. He struggled to access two hectares of his land because of water flowing through it and damaging his crops.
“Infrastructure development in our area is a serious concern and we need government to assist us in making sure that bridges are well maintained. Also, I need the department to buy me land so that I can increase my production,” he said.
The devastation has led to Martin retrenching some of the workers on his farm. Yet, his farm has the potential to create 150 jobs “With the few hectares of land that I have, I employed about 80 people [from January to March]. I am looking to increase that number even further as I know the challenge of unemployment,” he explained.
‘We can’t access our farms’
Anneline Loubscher, a farmer from Keimoes, said her farm had been destroyed by veld fires, which forced her to lay off workers too.
She appealed to government to assist her in re-establishing her farm, adding that her biggest concern was the bulk water supply which was hindering her grape farming.
“I lost everything because of the fire. It was devastating but I am glad that the government is coming through for me. There is great potential for job creation [on] this grape farm.
“My biggest concern is water. Without water there is really nothing we cant farm and that is a problem,” Loubscher said.
Meanwhile, Lenard van Rooyen, farm manager at Blusco, said they too could not access their farm plots because of a collapsed bridge. “We have plots on the other side of the bridge. It has collapsed. We cannot access our crops or farms; they have even died because of water.
“We have written letters to the MEC. All we are appealing for is government to help us access our plots. Our jobs and livelihood are at stake. There is really nothing to do at the moment.”
In an interview with Food For Mzansi, government’s acting district manager for agriculture, Christo Smit, said the department will assist with the three projects identified by extension officers. It would, however, cost the department millions of rand to help the producers start farming again.
“We are looking into helping the farmers in the three projects that we have visited. For instance, at Anneline’s farm, our team is on the ground assisting her. We have prepared 10 hectares of land for her to start farming grapes again.
“The Blusco project is also getting the necessary attention it deserves, especially because farmers are unable to reach their plots and to do what they do best, which is farming,” he said.
Focus on roads and infrastructure
Meanwhile, Manopole said infrastructure development in the province needed urgent attention as it was impacting on agriculture in the province. She acknowledged that officials needed to act with speed.
During her visits, Manopole assured farmers that she was in contact with her Northern Cape counterpart in public works and infrastructure, MEC Fufe Makatong, to prioritise roads in agricultural communities.
“I had a common engagement with the MEC and there is an understanding that we need to focus our energy on infrastructure development. That is something that we are doing at the moment.”
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.