Pietermaritzburg - Meat is soon likely to become a rare item on the menu of many households.As the drought tightens its hold in the country, consumers have been warned to expect much higher prices with lower quality when it comes to meat and vegetables. With the predictions of rain starting at the end of August next year, KwaZulu-Natal’s worst drought in 23 years has virtually crippled farmers and prices of food are expected to skyrocket.University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Maryann Green said the drought had made it more expensive for farmers to keep their animals in good condition, therefore increasing the price of meat.“As the drought continues, it will become even more expensive and difficult for farmers who may have to ship water and animal feed. “Because animals’ conditions may deteriorate and the quality of local meat will deteriorate, meat will likely cost the consumer substantially more and then have to be imported. This can lead to a downward cycle: quality down and prices up for the duration of the drought.”Green said milk prices are also likely to escalate as farmers will have to import feed in an attempt to maintain production with the costs passed onto the consumer. “As far as other foodstuffs are concerned, water is an essential component. Its scarcity will mean that prices will go up as processors look further afield for the necessary potable water, and up go the prices.“Examples will be almost all tinned foods, frozen foods, processed foods, baked goods, even cleaning materials — all require liquid at some stage of their processing,” said Green.She said the prices of vegetables are also expected to increase as farmers will struggle to produce them in numbers because of the drought.“The availability of vegetables will be less and the prices will go up,” she said.KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union director Sandy la Marque said that due to the drought, they are anticipating price hikes.“Going forward, we will see price hikes because of availability,” she said.“We are seeing in many areas that farmers are now farming at a loss. We are seeing some farmers who are already going out of business and there will be more.”She said they have concerning reports from farmers across the province who said funds to the value of R114 million to aid farmers have already dried up in some areas on the first day of the scheme launch. “We have had farmers tell us they have gone to the supplier for assistance and have been turned away and told that the funds have been depleted.”La Marque said the scheme started on Monday and was supposed to run for at least a month but they have received reports that funds in Dundee have been depleted, and are also dwindling in Ladysmith and Bergville.KZN Department of Agriculture spokesperson Lelethu Manentsa said the department is aware that some areas have depleted their funds.“When the department researched how much was needed to sustain farmers, we found it would take R2,2 billion.“We only managed to gather R114 million and were very well aware that it would never be enough,” said Manentsa. “We are putting all our resources and energy into helping however, there is no money. “Food prices are going to soar, everything is going to soar. We are looking at tough times,” he said.Manentsa said they are communicating with farmers, organisations and national departments to see how they can further aid farmers in KZN.He said that it has been difficult to plan for the drought and said partnerships between the farmers, community and department are needed as well as prayers for rain. • firstname.lastname@example.org BUSINESS editor Edward West previously reported that FNB senior agriculture economist Paul Makube said the price of meat will fall before it rises. This will be as a result of farmers slaughtering animals because of deteriorating pastures and the current high feed-grain prices.He believes the price of red meat at retail level will fall eight to 15% between December and January next year but will increase significantly from March and April next year as farmers start to re-build herds.Pork and poultry prices could trend upwards in December due to the increased demand ahead of the holiday season, said Makube.