Strange weather times indeed in KZN

2009-01-11 00:00

WE’RE living in strange times, perhaps most forcefully illustrated by our schizophrenic weather patterns of late.

The sheer ferocity of the storms battering the midlands have left many baffled and perplexed.

Provincial government ministers spoke of global warming and climate change, while others spoke of a “cycle of violence” and reminded us of Demoina and the 1987 floods.

This year’s storms may have made for dramatic imagery, but a different story is playing itself out in the agricultural sector with particular reference to food security. Consider the following:

• Storms fuelled by wind and rain have been lashing the midlands.

• Areas in northern KZN are approaching drought conditions.

• The Heatonville area in Zululand last year received 65% and this year 45% of its mean annual rainfall.

• Parts of the Eston area this year were blitzed by three hailstorms, an area not considered a hail risk. The latest storm on January 3 devastated 5 800 hectares of ripening sugar cane and young timber.

• Southern KZN has received abundant rain and experienced no damaging storms.

Looking further afield, rains in the Lesotho highlands were eight weeks late. While subsistence farmers obviously rely on the precipitation for their crops, the rain also drains into the Senqu (Orange) River basin to quench the thirst of millions of South Africans and irrigate the massive farming projects on its banks.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that storms are becoming more severe and that a greater degree of isolated storm patterns can be discerned. It is understood for instance, that while the Dargle has received its fair share of rain thus far, the same cannot be said for parts of the Karkloof.

The implications of aberrant weather on agricultural production are sobering. Other than the huge risk — the Eston farmers were not insured for hail — damaged crops also produce less later to threaten the sustainability of a farming operation.

There is general agreement that while no short-term solution is at hand to counter the ferocity of the elements, it is time to plan long-term strategies on how best to deal with climate change. And that means a steep learning curve

Going places

QUIETLY getting on with things, Heritage Academy achieved a 100% matric pass rate this year. In the process, the Prestbury-based school garnered 35 distinctions, and 70% of its pupils qualified for entry into bachelor’s degrees.

Congratulations are in order.

Town on sale

THE effect of the slowing economy is visibly evident in Greyton, the picturesque dorpie in the Overberg that became a trendy retreat from Cape Town.

Still exuding a friendly village ambience, its charm is threatened by an influx of people who are less concerned about the inherent appeal of the village, and more focused on relocating their value systems.

One of the consequences was a proliferation of spec-built houses that are now inviting buyers. It is not uncommon to see half a street on sale, the only redeeming feature being that a stringent build and design policy has enforced some sort of architectural integrity.

Business clearly is struggling, but not half as much as the estate agents who sit with overflowing portfolios still tagged at inflated pre-crunch prices.

Wine and about

THE variance between policy and implementation is no better illustrated than by the visitor experience at wine estates in the Western Cape.

Not all estates offer tasting of course, and to help visitors navigate a maze of wineries, farms and outlets, a range of guides, free and paid-for, are made available to the public. Some are better than others, and we quickly realised that the overly ambitious publications promised more than they could deliver.

A dead give-away was the manner in which directions to wineries were given. A name vaguely splattered on a map more or less in the vicinity of an estate doesn’t cut it, more so in view of generally poor signage and a confusing network of unmarked roads.

Then there is the service that see-sawed from the bored to the brilliant and it was obvious that the professionalism of staff was a reflection on the owners and/or management. Imagine a staff member hurrying you along because the doors are closing in 15 minutes!

The idiosyncratic behaviour at some estates contrasted with efforts at provincial and regional level to promote the wine industry. Of concern must be the apparent unwillingness of some estates to come to the party and raise the bar.

Where there’s smoke …

THE report about a scamster extorting money from business owners over UIF payments raises some interesting questions.

For one, why would business owners pay over money to an inspector if they’ve met their UIF obligations? Put differently, why would someone be willing to buy themselves out of trouble if they’re not in trouble in the first place?

Last word

A LONG habit of thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right. — Thomas Paine.

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