Sun, 15 Dec 2019

As the drought across South Africa continues to threaten farmers, food security must remain the number one priority, with agricultural organisations appealing for relief.

According to Agri SA's 2019/2020 agriculture report, 37.44% of rural communities in South Africa are currently affected by drought.

The Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Limpopo have been hit the worst, with real agricultural output 9.2% lower in the first half of 2019 than the same period in 2018, the report stated.

READ | No water for 3 months: Thousands left high and dry as drought takes punishing toll in the Eastern Cape

Several industries - including red meat production, maize, horticulture and dairy - have been affected by the drought, which has led to output shortages, financial constraints and a decline in employment figures.

Jannie de Villiers of Grain SA explained that, because of the drought, grain farmers have been late to plant in 2019 - this on top of the fact that the 2018 season didn't produce good yields either.

"If we look at the forecast, we are worried. The grain sector cannot take another drought," De Villiers said.

De Villiers said food security must remain the number one priority for South Africa. He appealed to government for assistance.

Call for government aid

He said that the country had a choice between eating and flying, alluding to SAA which has been bailed out several times in the past to the tune of hundreds of millions of rand.

Agri SA's Willem Symington said the main concern was that the drought would eventually lead to food insecurity and that climatic disasters must be managed better by government and stakeholders.

Symington explained that farmers across the board were suffering financial constraints, which impeded production and cast doubt on the sustainability of farmers in the coming years.

READ | 'All we can do now is pray for rain' - Water crisis hits Barberton

Gerhard Schutte from the Red Meat Producers' Organisation said the drought had severely impacted commercial and emerging farmers in the meat sector, to the point that farmers were being forced to slaughter livestock because they didn't have enough feed.

He also called for aid from government, for both the commercial and emerging sectors.

'End of the line'

Agri SA's Christo van der Rheede and Omri van Zyl said the drought was a national issue that affected all South Africans and had to be solved through the intervention of South Africans.

"Many of our farmers and rural people are at the end of their wits, end of the line. It's time that we all take hands and solve this problem together as a nation," Van Zyl said.

Van der Rheede appealed to the public for donations to their disaster fund, which is audited, and would go a long way in providing relief for farmers during the drought.

He said Agri SA and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development had also agreed to collaborate on an effort to mitigate drought risk.

"This includes sharing and promoting smart agricultural best practices, working together on strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change," Van der Rheede said.

Symington said that while it was not necessary to call for a national disaster to be declared, the disaster declarations in Limpopo, the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape should have been made more than a year ago to maximise the impact of relief.

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