The Western Cape government needs R88m to avert total disaster for farmers whose livelihoods have been decimated by the drought in parts of the province.
But first, Cabinet has to officially declare a disaster in the province and national treasury must decide how much it can afford.
“We cannot have black farmers who are beneficiaries of land reform… go through this challenging time, [and] throw in the towel,” said Darryl Jacobs, acting deputy director general for the department of agricultural development and support services.
“We want the farmworkers and the agri-workers to remain on these farms.”
Jacobs was part of a team that briefed the Western Cape legislature’s standing committee on economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture on the impact of the drought and the recent fires.
The West Coast and Central Karoo districts, as well as the municipalities of Prince Albert, Oudtshoorn and Witzenberg have been hardest hit. Prince Albert and Witzenberg were classified as drought areas on January 11.
Cabinet must declare drought
Now they just need to be gazetted. Cabinet has already declared droughts in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Free State.
The Public Finance Management Act stipulated that declaring is a function of national government so in the meantime, the Western Cape is dipping into its own budget.
Jacobs said the province did not want farmers to go under because of the lag between classifying and gazetting a disaster so it had taken the unprecedented step of providing about R1.5m to 30 farmers and farmworkers while it waited for the declaration.
If it is granted, it will have to be stretched far.
To qualify, farmers must have lost between half to all of their crops. They would receive R6 500 per household per month for at least the next six months and their agri-workers would receive 70% of their minimum wage, amounting R1 824.75 each per month.
Farmers in the Southern Cape have already donated fodder to Western Cape farmers, but another R3m for this year and R3m for next year would be needed to transport the fodder.
No photosynthesis a major problem
Andre Roux, director of sustainable resource management in the department, showed satellite images indicating that no photosynthesis had taken place over vast swathes of land in the province.
“Nothing is growing. There is no fodder for the animals to eat. It is not a normal drought. It is a very severe drought,” said Roux.
The committee heard that at its most extreme, on October 7 last year, Vredendal recorded a temperature of 48.3 degrees. The total recorded rainfall for 2015 was 403 millimetres – the driest year since 1904.
This makes crops wither and any rain that does fall is lost to evaporation in the extreme heat. “Whether it is climate change, or the drought cycle –we do not know,” he said.
In South Africa, 83% of maize, 53% of wheat and 73% of sugar cane is produced in dry land conditions, making rain even more important. The maize harvest is expected to be 25% down on the figure for the 2015/16 season and many wheat crops in the Swartland have failed.
Farmers in desperate need of help
According to Carl Opperman, CEO of Agri Western Cape, which represents about 4 500 farmers, they desperately need help.
He said agriculture was always last on the list of budget priorities, but without food, education, health and other important national programmes wouldn’t be effective.
“In the body, agriculture is the blood that runs through it,” he said.
Even if it rained now, it would take farmers up to five years to recover from the drought.
They are even battling to feed their animals but fodder and lucerne costs have escalated so much that when the initial support estimate was calculated by the department in November, the cost was R63m compared with the R88m revised figure in January.
To make matters worse, the fires that raged in the Western Cape over the past months have caused massive damage to crops and infrastructure.
Opperman warned that unless it rained soon, there might only be 15 weeks of water left for farmers in the province.
By Jenni Evans. Source: Times Live