SA farmers raise alarm on persistent drought threat, seek aid

South African farmers are warning of a brewing crisis as persistent dryness and hot weather threaten crops and livestock just three years after the country grappled with the worst drought on record.

As little as 60% of available land was planted this season and those crops are being threatened by heat stress, according to lobby group Grain SA.

The country will need to import yellow corn and there’s a possibility it will have shortages of the staple white variety despite a large carry-over stock from last season, Chief Executive Officer Jannie de Villiers told reporters at a briefing Friday.

"If we don’t get rains this weekend in some of the areas, most of those plants will die," he said. "This will put South Africa in a very tight situation."

Farmers still haven’t recovered from the 2015-16 season, De Villiers said. Corn production that year was hurt by the worst drought since records began more than a century ago.

The country’s Agricultural Business Chamber is in talks with government, banks and businesses about support for the industry, the group said Friday. A December survey showed 31 000 jobs and R7bn had been lost as a result of the drought, which is having a "devastating impact" on crops, the chamber said.

"As the situation stands, we are going to lose farmers, we are going to lose livestock," said Gerhard Schutte, the chief executive officer of the country’s Red Meat Producers Association. "We need drought aid. If that aid isn’t in place by the beginning of winter, we really have serious problems."

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