Northern Cape needs R688m to battle massive drought

A dry field in Dubbelevlei farm in Vanwyksvlei. (Sesona Ngqakamba, News24)
A dry field in Dubbelevlei farm in Vanwyksvlei. (Sesona Ngqakamba, News24)

Agri-Northern Cape (Agri-NC) says it is looking forward to the help it will receive from the government to raise almost R688m for drought aid in the province. This, however, has not been granted yet. 

"We have requested the aid and we hope they will grant it soon," Agri-NC president, Nicol Jansen, said. 

The province is one of the worst hit by an ongoing drought which has led to the death of thousands of head of livestock - the primary source of income in the area. 

According to Agri-NC, the widespread drought had already reduced livestock in the province by as much as 50%, with more than 100 000 farms feeling the pinch. 

Jansen said the money would help them feed 30 large livestock at a cost of R45 per day, for about three months, while farmers continue to pray for rain.

Jansen and GWK members have since Thursday visited farms in Vanwyksvlei and Griekwastad, small towns outside Kimberley, to offer support and hear the concerns as well as the fears of farmers whose daily battle is to keep their livestock alive. 

The tour, themed "Just One Drop", sought to indicate what the conditions are that farmers in the province face in the wake of the drought. Sessions were held on Wednesday and Thursday in the respective towns where GWK and Agri-SA spoke to farmers in attendance, advising and giving hope. Farmers left the events with packages of feed for their animals.

Speaking to News24 during Thursday's tour in Vanwyksvlei, Jansen said in the past 120 years there have been cycles and patterns in terms of rain and drought. 

He added the patterns were usually five to seven or even 11 years of wet periods; and then five to seven years of drought.

As from 2010, however, the province has only had seven years of drought in the dry season and only three years of the wet. This was then followed by another seven years of drought until this stage. 

"That is the problem. We didn't have enough time to get growth on the field and to stabilise the conditions on the field within the three years of the wet period, and, on the back of that, we have the seven years of far below average rainfall," said Jansen. 

'Worst in history of humankind'

The average rainfall is 150mm annually for Vanwyksvlei, but in 2018, only 15mm fell with no further sign of wetness for the year. This cycle had left many farmers in the area in limbo, according to Agri NC. 

Although Northern Cape Premier Zamani Saul declared the province a disaster area, the declaration had yet to be published in the Government Gazette, raising concern for the agricultural sector, Jansen said. 

He added that 80% of the province had been affected by the drought, making it the worst in the country's history.  

Although farmers are facing a natural disaster, Agri-NC said it would continue to offer as much support as possible although it could only do so much, especially for emerging farmers. 

"We do have fundraising events to get the money to subsidise and pay for the transport of donations. 

"The problem is that the transport cost is very high. It ranges from R18 000 to R25 000 depending on the distance. To transport [feed] in this vast area is expensive and so it's impossible to supply the amount that is needed." 

Jansen said the member-based organisation he led had tried to help by giving humanitarian hope to farmers. 

He added the organisation also had a deal with a company that supplies humanitarian assistance to farmworkers, saying distribution in the province had already started.


Livestock feeding inside Dubbelevlei farm in Vanwyksvlei. (Sesona Ngqakamba,News24)

"Local farmers' associations are also assisting emerging farmers by sharing the [fodder] that [we] have received. We try our best to help…" 

As the delegation moved from one farm to another, there was no sign of green vegetation in the fields. 

"The normal vegetation that is indigenous to this area have no leaves the sheep can eat. Everything is black and brown with no green," Jansen said. 

"It is really frustrating for organised agriculture that works hard to make it easier for the government and helping with assessments to get a declaration, but political unwillingness causes delays." 

He added the delays in aid to the farmers made them feel that they were not valued.  

The chairperson of the Northern Cape Red Meat Producers Association, Johan van der Colff, said the organisation was concerned a lot of sheep in the area were being slaughtered, while others were dying of hunger. He added that the western parts of the province were suffering the most from the drought. 

Van der Colff said his organisation also contributed to the drought fund to support emerging farmers who are in dire need of help.

He said the industry was always prepared for regular droughts, but not the severe ones the region was currently facing. 

"We ask more people to help us. The support we get from farmers in other provinces helps, but it's not enough for us to survive."

Hope for rain

GWK group managing director Llewellyn Brooks said there was only so much support the company could give towards drought relief programmes. 

He added more stakeholders needed to join hands with the farmers. 

"It's a problem we can't sustain forever. We all believe there will be rain that will come. This is a catastrophe because it is outside our normal cycles we experience in agriculture," Brooks said. 

He added that processes and feeding schemes needed to continue to protect agricultural activities in the province. 

Brooks said they, without a doubt, believed rain would come again, but in the meantime, farmers needed to be motivated to stay on the farms and assist in feeding the livestock so the industry could be sustainable in the future. 

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