The agricultural sector’s long-running battle with government to withdraw its lockdown ban on livestock auctions has not yet yielded any results. Now small-scale livestock farmers, who are heavily reliant on auctions, tell Food For Mzansi this has brought them nothing but financial trauma.
Current level 4 lockdown regulations stipulate that gatherings at auctions are not permitted until Sunday, 11 July 2021 after which the provision will be reviewed.
However, with experts predicting that the latest lockdown regulations are likely to remain in place, farmers in the country are crying out for help.
Joseph Khahleli, a Free State livestock farmer and chairperson of the Kaallaagte Farmers’ Association, says as a group of newly commercialising black farmers, they are suffering.
He says, “We are reliant on the auctions, so the impact on us, as farmers, is big. For some of us, selling our livestock is what pays the bills and the workers. We make our budgets around our livestock, so it becomes difficult when you are not allowed to sell.”
For farmers like Khahleli, without any auctions to sell their livestock, running sustainable agricultural enterprise becomes virtually impossible.
“If the auctions are not there, it becomes very difficult for us, especially when it’s our only market and way of selling our livestock.”
Auction ban fails farmers
A commercial-scale livestock farmer in the Free State, Hannetjie Human, says a clamp-down on livestock auctions breeds financial woes for farmers.
“The moment when your cattle are ready for the [auction] market and you as a farmer cannot market them due to the lockdown, then it means that you will have to feed those cattle for a further two weeks or more. Depending on how long the lockdown is,” Human explains.
The cost to farmers, she says, is ridiculously high. This is exacerbated when a farmer, for instance, does not have enough feed for the cattle and more feed must be bought.
The impact OF THE AUCTION BAN is especially felt by livestock farmers who operate on a smaller scale.
“The other thing is, as a farmer you plan to sell a certain number of cattle every month. If you cannot sell due to a lockdown, then you are in a financial problem,” says Human.
Moreover, it is not only farmers that suffer but also the players behind the scenes, Human explains. “The people who work for the auction [houses], the people who pitch the tents, and those who prepare food [are also affected]. So much money goes into the planning of auctions.”
Meanwhile Human hopes that online auctions will return soon. “Online auctions are a fantastic thing. I hope in the future we can only do online auctions.”
It is quite an easy and inexpensive process but can become costly with commercial auction where slaughter animals, from the farm, are sold. “A vet has to come in and inspect. Vets charge you a lot of money depending on how many animals you have, how much time you spend with the vet and how far you are.”
Government to back farmers
Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede has also raised concerns with government about livestock auctions.
In an interview with Food For Mzansi journalist Sinesipho Tom, Van der Rheede says while they support government in its efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic, the economy must somehow be accommodated.
“If we continue with this ban of livestock auctions, it could have a tremendous negative impact on food production, especially on the availability of meat products for consumers.”
Instead of just having an outright ban, creative ideas should be brought forward, says Van der Rheede.
Acting director-general for the department agriculture, land reform and rural development, Mooketsa Ramasodi, recently responded to a letter from Agri SA relating to the prohibition.
In the letter, Ramasodi assures Agri SA that the department is acting in support of farmers to have the ban on auctions lifted.
“The department is currently engaging the relevant structures with a view of lifting the prohibition and ensuring that auctions are held under directions on auctions similar to those as issued in 2020,” Ramasodi wrote.
During last year’s level 4 lockdown, auctions were allowed to take place in accordance with stringent safety protocols.
Urgent intervention required
Meanwhile, DA member on the portfolio committee of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Noko Masipa, has also requested urgent intervention following the livestock auction ban.
In his letter to agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza, Masipa argues that the ban destroys up to 40% of the very up-and-coming and communal livestock farmers that government is trying to assist.