Drought: As farmers wait for Gordhan, Agri SA warns of job losses, influx of migrants

Omri van Zyl. Picture: Lisa Hnatowicz
Omri van Zyl. Picture: Lisa Hnatowicz

The drought is clearly a national disaster, so it is important that South Africa makes available all possible resources. 

Chief executive of Agri SA, Omri van Zyl, told the Cape Town Press Club that he believed the state should declare the drought a national disaster. 

One of the consequences of the drought was, according to Van Zyl, the potential of migration from neighbouring countries, because the whole of southern Africa had been caught in the grip of the drought. 

Various discussions about the drought had taken place between Agri SA, President Jacob Zuma, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana. 

Agri SA’s plan was handed over to them, and the organisation was waiting to hear the scope of the drought relief that Gordhan would make available in his budget speech tomorrow. 

South Africa would have to import an estimated 7.3 million tonnes of grain – mealies and wheat – because of the ongoing drought. 

Five provinces were declared disaster areas last year. 

Farmers were experiencing a crisis with livestock. Many animals had died because of too little feed and many commercial farmers had begun reducing their herds. 

He said that food price inflation was a reality. 

“It has already begun. In the meat industry, probably by June, prices will increase rapidly.” 

Van Zyl said “we would begin to see the potential migration of people in the region”. 

“Zimbabwe has declared a national disaster due to the drought. There are currently 2.5 million hungry people in Zimbabwe. You can just ask yourself where they were going.” 

Agri SA was also concerned about job losses. 

“We have about 850 000 farm workers in South Africa. If 10% or 20% of them are retrenched we will have a very serious situation,” said Van Zyl. 

Farmers needed R2.4 billion in guarantees from the state for the first year to get over the effect of the drought get back into production, said Van Zyl. 

Schalk Pienaar, president of Agricultural Business Chamber, said the guarantees were not for all farmers. 

“Our main proposal to the government is that specific guarantees are issued. It is not for all farmers, but where farmers have a chance of recovery.” 

A subsidy that pays 50% of the minimum wage for farm workers who are affected by the drought was also requested from the state for six months. 

Johannes Möller, president of Agri SA, said the plan was drafted on the assumption that South Africa had no contingency reserves. 

If the money was not available from the state treasury, Agri SA would approach the Industrial Development Corporation, the Land Bank and commercial banks and potential international donors. 

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July 2020

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