South African farmers continue to battle a crippling drought which many believe could be the worst since 1988. Not only are farmers suffering the drought’s profound consequences, a new report indicates at least 31 000 agricultural workers have already lost their jobs as a result.
Agri SA, a federation of agricultural organisations, says in its agricultural drought report that the Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and North West have been particularly hard-hit, with the Western Cape now also a cause for concern. The report is based on information by 23 agricultural organisations, including Mpumalanga Agriculture, Vinpro, Kwanalu and Agri Western Cape.
Besides the massive job losses already reported, the agricultural industry lost approximately R7 billion in turnover due to the drought. About 70% of farmers, whose primary source of income is through livestock, warns that water availability is now at a critical level, with limited fodder for animals now also causing worry. The drought has also placed tremendous stress on the health of more than 50% of the farmers polled, with depression and anxiety topping the list.
During the most recent financial year, the apricot industry reported a severe loss of more than R2,7 million.
Various other industries have experienced similar results, with experts warning that the drought may have a negative impact on consumers’ pockets.
Looking to the future, Agri SA says that farmers need approximately R3 billion in assistance from government for them to properly deal with the effects of the drought. The industry will also require extended production loan terms, distribution of fodder, humanitarian aid and financial assistance.
Meanwhile 586 farmers in the Central Karoo district have found some relief when the Western Cape’s department of agriculture pledged R8,3 million in drought support. The support is in the form of a voucher which farmers can use to purchase fodder at the local cooperative.
Beverley Schäfer, the provincial MEC for economic opportunities, visited farmers in Laingsburg, who have been battling the drought for the past four years. According to Schäfer they will continue to engage with farmers to find innovative ways in which government can assist farmers. “The agricultural sector is an important part of our regional economy, and is a key creator of jobs in the rural areas. It is important that we assist farmers, wherever possible, to ensure that they are able to continue farming and creating jobs.”
Schäfer’s spokesperson, Bianca Capazorio, added that they will continue to provide drought relief on a monthly basis. “This is not once-off support. The department has been providing drought relief throughout the drought and will continue to do so. In the past, assistance was provided every second month, but in areas deemed extremely critical, this has now been changed to every month.”