Bordering on disaster

2015-11-20 09:45
Fishermen have to drive or walk 200?m from the original water level to cast their lines. The water level at Albert Falls Dam has dropped to 44,51%.

Fishermen have to drive or walk 200?m from the original water level to cast their lines. The water level at Albert Falls Dam has dropped to 44,51%. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - With water being described as a “luxury” commodity, consumers should prepare to dig a lot deeper into their pockets to buy groceries in the months ahead.

This as key players in the agricultural sector explained their precarious position caused by the current drought conditions, with production expected to reduce significantly in various sectors.

The Office of the Premier has confirmed it is in the process of formally requesting assistance from several national departments to have the most drought-stricken regions of the province, including uMgungundlovu and Harry Gwala, declared disaster areas.

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) CEO Sandy le Marque said, “We eagerly await the government to gazette a disaster declaration. The need for a commodity such as water has become a luxury,” said Le Marque.

Kwanalu president Andy Buchan said they have been given the “assurance” that the declaration “will happen soon”.

Several sugarcane farmers in the Midlands have all but abandoned their crops instead turning it into feed and selling it to cattle farmers whose own grasslands are barren.

Greytown farmer Wally Gevers, who owns a 126 hectare farm where he farms chickens, cattle and pigs, said he stopped growing cane due to the poor rainfall.

“Over two years my shoots were so small and the cost of hauling it to the mill was simply not worth it.

“Instead I turned it into feed and have sold a large portion to a nearby dairy,” said Gevers.

He said while the cane was not worth harvesting for its intended purpose, it has saved him from having to buy feed.

Tomorrow, the KZN Department of Agriculture is expected to address the media alongside key sector role-players and discuss the rollout of a R114 million fightback to assist farmers affected by drought.

While details are scarce on the plan, the department has noted that the “drought is dramatically affecting all water supply for agricultural production” and “threatening the viability of subsistence, small-scale and commercial farmers”.

In a recent statement by the Red Meat Producers Organisation it said an independent study revealed that “substantial aid in KwaZulu-Natal alone will amount to R740 million” in its industry and that any recovery could take up to three seasons.

But SA Canegrowers’ Association spokesperson Ronda Naidu said while a drought is “not a new phenomenon” the data shows that the industry always bounces back.

“Although this drought may cause some consolidation of farm units in certain cane growing areas where greater economies of scale are required, growers are encouraged to farm as best they can through the drought so that their farms can benefit from the rain when it does fall.”

She said historical data showed that the industry by 1996 recovered from the 1992/93 drought while a similar recovery was seen after the 2010 drought.

“Over these past two seasons grower profitability has taken a knock due to ever decreasing cane production and poorer quality. Profitability will certainly be improved once the conditions improve. The drought has become increasingly serious in the 2015/16 season but has spanned over the two production seasons so far. With the current drought the 2016/17 season will have a slow start,” said Naidu.

Citrus Growers’ Association of South Africa (CGA) CEO Justin Chadwick said while they have just recorded their best year exporting 1,75 million tons of citrus fruit, he said the drought will put significant pressure on its export market. Citrus is grown throughout South Africa.

According to AgriSA, most agricultural products, with the exception of potatoes, onions, lamb/mutton and chicken, have risen in price at more than six percent per annum since 2008 with white sugar prices increasing by as much as 16% per annum with this trend likely to continue.

IF you are a rooibos tea drinker, you may want to stock up on a few boxes because the price is set to skyrocket by as much as 90%.

In a statement yesterday Ernest du Toit, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council, said the 2016 harvest could be the worst in years.

Having received very little or no rainfall during the important planting months of July and August, rooibos farmers in the Cederberg, Bokkeveld and other regions of the Western and Northern Cape are at their wits’ end, he said.

“The ongoing drought of the past few years had already diminished rooibos reserves, but given its prolonged nature, the economic effect will potentially be even more severe.

“Exports will decrease as a result of supply constraints which will drive up the price of rooibos, making it very expensive. As things stand, there will not be enough volume to service both the local and export demand, therefore processors would need to prioritise sales between local industry demands and exports,” said Du Toit.

He said decisions where the product goes will be based on factors such as “exchange rate, product quality and suitability for export”.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  water

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