Drought starts taking its toll on livestock farmers

2015-11-08 06:00

With its emaciated body stretched out in the muddy ground next to a concrete water trough, a frail-looking goat struggled to lift its head in Selosesha village west of Mahikeng, North West.

Villagers believe the goat had grown weak because it had not had much to eat due to the bare pastures.

Although there is still some water for animals in this village, it does not help much when there is no grass to eat at all. It is clear that water alone could not resuscitate this dying goat.

The goat was starving and the chances of it living another day were slim. It would be a great loss for the owner, but the painful reality was that farmers were set to lose even more animals in this crippling drought.

The director for rural development coordination in the provincial agricultural department, Ketlile Mabitsela, said the drought was severe across the province except for the Madibeng areas around Brits and Koster.

He said 485 000 livestock units were at risk of being directly affected. One livestock unit equals one cow, four sheep or four goats.

“Our assessment done earlier this year revealed that 2% of the 485 000 have already died and about 15% is worthless in terms of quality. They need immediate assistance in the next two weeks and if they don’t get it, they will perish … once they fall they can’t stand up,” Mabitsela said.

He said 21 000 farmers were exposed to suffering a potential loss and added that almost 70% were smallholder or emerging farmers.

Mabitsela said 60mm to 80mm of rainfall was needed to offset the drought but until then, things remained bleak for farmers.

The pastures which, around this time, would normally be blanketed in wild, green grass are now bare in areas like Selosesha. There is no dry grass. Whatever was left, the animals have pulled out by the roots.

Only Mother Nature can save the day, but the national rainfall forecast is not looking good.

Signs of depression are not only clear on these herbivores’ faces, but the rough fur and the ribs protruding through their skins showed they were famished.

Local subsistence farmer Mothusi Mothusi said this was the hardest time for him and his colleagues.

“There is a water point for cattle and other animals to quench their thirst, but they can’t live by water alone. Animals are now prone to all kinds of illnesses and many people are losing livestock because they are malnourished and weak...” Mothusi said.

He is also a businessman and said his cattle’s upkeep was accounting for a large slice of his monthly expenditure.

“I am spending about R8 000 on supplementary feed and medical needs to keep these cattle alive. None have died of malnutrition, but other farmers are struggling because they can’t afford feeds and stand to lose a lot if this drought doesn’t go away soon.”

Farmers have been advised to lower the numbers of their stock, but Mothusi said this also meant losses because buyers were now “offering next to nothing for our cattle”.

“Some farmers are selling two or three heads of cattle to allow them to buy feeds and other things, but buyers who are large-scale farmers are aware of our struggle and can offer R10 000 or less for those cows,” he said.

Meanwhile, North West, which in July made a Government Gazette declaration of a drought disaster, said it needed R2.9 billion to buy fodder, new boreholes and medicinal supplies like supplements for weakened animals.

In terms of crop farming, Mabitsela said farmers were at the risk of counting serious losses in the 400 000 hectares of sunflower and maize.

“The cost of producing one hectare is about R5 500, but as the state, we can’t compensate for potential losses except for the loss of their crop,” he said adding that the province was still waiting on national government for funding.

Read more on:    mahikeng  |  farmers  |  drought

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