Drought in the Cape could see 50 000 jobs lost and food prices spike

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Theewaterskloof dam
Theewaterskloof dam

Drought gripping the three Cape provinces will see up to 50 000 farm workers lose their jobs amid rising inflation, while the after-effects of previous seasons of drought inland will see holidaymakers having to dig deeper into their pockets to enjoy their shisa nyama.

The lay-offs affecting permanent and seasonal workers in the Western Cape alone will have an “astronomical impact” on rural areas, the province’s local government department chief Graham Paulse told Parliament recently.

In his presentation, Paulse warned of possible civil unrest and increased urban migration.

Some vegetable crops in the Western Cape have been cut by as much as 80%; fruit farms are taking desperate measures to keep production losses at 20%; and the purée factory in Lutzville will not open this season, Paulse said.

READ: No new cases of bird flu in Western Cape over past week

Seasonal workers employed during harvest time were hit particularly hard by the drop in production, said Women on Farms director Colette Solomon, as they rely on the work to supplement social grant income.

Solomon added: “Seasonal workers who would have started in October have not been called to work and are just hoping they will be called over December and January.”

Women on Farms labour rights coordinator Rosaline Engelbrecht said about 90% of seasonal workers were women and relied on the work to help feed their families.

If no work was forthcoming, workers would stand up and demand work.

Meanwhile, there is a shortage of meat supply as farmers in the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape see their herds decimated by drought.

Farmers in the inland provinces are still rebuilding their herds after being hit by drought in 2015.

This has resulted in a rise in beef prices of between 22% to 32% over the past year.

Rising prices 

The latest monthly report by agriculture analysis company AMT said prices are expected to rise further over December. Mutton and lamb follow a similar trend.

Agri SA chief economist Hamlet Hlomendlini said 25 000 jobs have already been lost in the agricultural sector during the third quarter (from July to September).

He added that the production cuts in the Western Cape will result in a revenue loss of about R4.9 billion, with exports dropping by about 60%, given that Western Cape fruit accounts for a large chunk of agricultural export revenue.

He said with the Western Cape contributing about 40% of the country’s agricultural production, “food prices will feel the knock-on effect and inflation is expected to rise as a result”.

Agri Northern Cape CEO Henning Myburgh said in addition to this, “fuel price increases will contribute to inflation, and meat prices will continue to rise”.

Livestock production in the Northern Cape is “in chaos”, Myburgh added.

He said farmers in the western part of the province are enduring their fourth year of drought.

“There is nothing to graze on, absolutely nothing. Personally, I know about seven farmers who have closed the gates and packed up and gone to look for work.”

He said about 3 000 farmers are receiving relief fodder for their livestock from farmers in the North West province where good rains were had this season.

Agri Eastern Cape CEO Douglas Stern said about 200 livestock farmers were receiving relief fodder from KwaZulu-Natal farmers.

“Farmers from Natal have been unbelievable in their support, it’s been a massive humanitarian effort,” Stern said.

“No doubt many would have had to stop farming if it wasn’t for the help. A lot of farmers are staring financial ruin in the face.”

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