Western Cape farmers face grim season in wake of drought and fires

THE severe drought is likely to lead to a 10% drop in agricultural production in the Western Cape and hundreds of seasonal farm workers losing their jobs.

This is according to a detailed analysis by the Western Cape department of agriculture on the expected real effect of the drought on food prices and agricultural production in the province.

The agricultural sector, one of the province’s most important sectors, has been hard-hit by the drought. Farmers in the Western Cape are also counting their losses following devastating fires in the Winelands last week that destroyed 3,000ha of vegetation and vineyards.

Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde at the weekend tabled the report on the expected effect of the drought at a meeting of MECs and ministers.

The report also states that the drought has led to national agricultural production declining by more than 42%.

“The total impact on animal, crop and horticultural production will be a reduction of 10% (in the Western Cape),” Mr Winde said on Tuesday.

“The majority of our horticultural and vegetable crops are irrigated. Farmers have experienced localised shortages of irrigation water. Some stopped irrigating certain blocks, which will result in decreased yield. However, the biggest impact may be on next year’s harvest due to the fact that farmers may not have sufficient water for post-harvest irrigation.

“Indications are that the wheat industry was the most severely impacted. The local price of wheat will be based on the cost of importing wheat at a poor rand-dollar exchange rate, driving food prices up.”

Mr Winde said residents living in the towns that had been severely affected by drought were most at risk.

“Some seasonal workers will be without incomes and they are also going to be dealing with increasing food prices. This is a double blow that will put intense pressure on households in many of our rural areas.”

Beverley Schäfer, the chairwoman of the standing committee on economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture in the Western Cape provincial legislature, said she would invite the provincial department of agriculture, VinPro, Tru-Cape and Agri-Western Cape to brief the committee in February about the effect of the drought and the recent fires.

“I will also ask these stakeholders to suggest solutions that government can provide to assist the farmers affected by the fires and as well as by the drought … it is deeply concerning that the national Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana is reluctant to declare the situation in the Western Cape a national disaster. The situation is already a crisis, but it can risk getting worse if national government does not take it more seriously,” said Ms Schäfer.

Agri Western Cape CE Carl Opperman said earlier in January that as a result of the drought, fewer seasonal workers might be needed, “but as far as financially possible, the agricultural sector will do everything in its power to keep permanent workers on the farm”.

However, Nosey Pieterse, the chief negotiator for the Rural and Allied Workers Union, which represents some farm workers in the province, said farmers wanted to use the drought as “an excuse to shed jobs”.

He said: “We have been informed of the possible consequences of the drought and studied it … from what we have seen the Swartland is the only area that has been seriously affected by the drought in the Western Cape.

“Government has said it will support farmers, so we will be calling on them to assist only those farmers who secure the jobs of workers … farmers face a drought once in a while and workers are in a drought most of the time because of low wages and bad working conditions, so everything should be done to protect the farm workers.”




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