Farmers desperate for help

2016-01-13 06:00
WILLIAM SEKOTO, a farmer at the Medleport-Sekoto Trust which is 38 km outside Bloemfontein, says drought has affected him badly. Photo: Mlungisi Louw

WILLIAM SEKOTO, a farmer at the Medleport-Sekoto Trust which is 38 km outside Bloemfontein, says drought has affected him badly. Photo: Mlungisi Louw

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“I SYMPATHISE with the farmer who committed suicide, the losses are so grave and we are left in despair,” said a farmer battling with the worst drought since 1992.

William Sekoto (50), a black emerging farmer, was referring to Krisjan Kruger (34), an Eastern Cape farmer who had shot himself with a rifle after suffering from depression because of the drought earlier this month. Sekoto owns the Medleport-Sekoto Trust located in the Rustfontein Dam area near Bloemfontein, Free State.

Sekoto said he might lose his farm if the Department of Agriculture did not intervene and assist farmers with provision of fodder and water. Since the drought had worsened Sekoto says he had lost more than 20 beef cattle and 60 sheep.

The Free State is one of the provinces hardest hit by the drought.

“I have invested my life into my farm and it pains me to watch my livestock die,” said Sekoto.

“On some days I want to give up,” he added further.

Sekoto said his 462 ha farm has no grazing for livestock.

Last November Sekoto submitted a request form to the Free State Department of Agriculture requesting drought relief assistance and still awaits a response from the department.

In November Oupa Khoabane, MEC for Agriculture in the Free State, pledged R30 million to assist emerging farmers affected by the drought. He pledged a further R22 million to drill boreholes for farmers throughout the province.

Sekoto voiced his frustrations with the Agriculture Department and said it had failed to give farmers feedback on how it intended to roll out funds allocated for drought relief. Agriculture spokesperson Zimasa Mbewu said the department had received 8 000 requests for drought relief by November last year.

“The department is bombarded with drought relief requests daily and the R39 million allocated for the crises is not enough,” said Mbewu.

Mbewu mentioned that the department was in talks with the National Department of Treasury to inject more money for drought relief. In December, the tinder-dry veld went up in flames near Zastron, devastating dozens of farms left without grazing for their surviving livestock. Half of the land was communal grazing land for emerging farmers.

Mbewu said the department also had to prioritise the 401 farmers affected by the fires from the same coffers. Mbewu admitted that the situation was dire, but encouraged farmers to be patient while the department tried to allocate more funds for drought relief.

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