Drought worries prominent in Western Cape agriculture budget

Cape Town – It is impossible to speak about the budget for the Western Cape Department of Agriculture without mentioning the drought, Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde said on Tuesday.

He described the drought as a once-in-400-years event.

Announcing his proposed budget for the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, he said total allocation for the department will be R834.34m for the 2018/19 financial year.

Winde emphasised that agriculture plays a very important role in the province. It contributes R54bn to the gross value add (GVA) of the province. On top of that, 52% of all provincial exports come from the agriculture and agri-processing sectors.

That is why agri-processing will remain a priority for support from the department, due to its importance to the economy and job creation.

Drought impact

At the same time, Winde emphasised that the drought is expected to cost the agriculture sector in the province up to R5.9bn. The drought continues to have an impact on job security, especially in rural areas. It is expected that total production volumes will be 20% smaller this year.

Agriculture in the province employs about 340 000 people and Winde said it is expected that especially female farm workers – who are often breadwinners – will be the hardest hit. It is estimated that so far 57 000 agriculture jobs have been lost in the province due to the drought.

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture has spent over R100m during the past year on drought relief, mainly to buy fodder for livestock. The department has requested R136m in disaster relief from the national government.

Winde said there will be engagements with national government in this regard. He said it is not certain yet how much of the R6bn in drought relief announced by national government will be allocated to the Western Cape.

He issued a plea for national government to at least prioritise the signing off on the Brandvlei and Clanwilliam dam projects. For the former he said “only R15m” is needed.

“We all have to continue to use as little water as possible to ensure our dams can fill more during winter,” said Winde.

“A whole new water economy is developing at the moment.  Partnerships are the most important to develop in this regard. Without agriculture, rural households’ finance and our economy is under threat.”

He said even if rains come, SA is a water scarce country and the Western Cape is only set to get drier.

Winde emphasised the importance of using new technology and farming practices to address the challenges brought about by the drought and climate change.

Agriculture in the Western Cape was also challenged by the impacts of plant and animal diseases like bird flu.

“[Poultry] farmers are nervous about restocking and especially worried since winter is coming. They lost millions in restocking,” said Winde.

“The virus continues to spread in wild birds and now also in penguin colonies. These are indications of the impact of climate change on plants and animals in our province.”

After the listeriosis outbreak elsewhere in the country, Winde said listeriosis testing is now being done, for instance, on all food stuffs arriving in Cape Town harbour.

Halaal and land reform

Other topics Winde touched on in his budget speech is the intention to establish the Western Cape as a halaal hub.

As for land reform, he said the province will undertake an external land reform study to determine the performance of all projects since 2014.

The province has set a success rate target of 70% and is currently close to achieving this at 62%, he claimed.

“The role of the commodity approach to land reform is ensuring that land reform projects are successful and that beneficiaries have access to markets and mentors who are able to guide them where needed,” said Winde.

Budget in a nutshell:

Of the proposed budget of R834.34m for the Western Cape Department of Agriculture for the 2018/19 year:

  • R124.49m will go towards administration;
  • Sustainable resource management would get R91.134m;
  • Farmer support and development would receive R278.5m;
  • Veterinary services is allocated R96.85m;
  • Research and technology services will get R126.28m;
  • Agriculture economics services would receive R27.92m;
  • Structured education and training will get R65.01m;
  • Rural development would receive R24.13m.

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