Saturday, January 16, 2010

Still no emergency funds as East Cape farms face collapse, crippling lay-offs

They walk the walk and talk the talk, but when it comes to action the South African government fails. So what's new? I only have sympathy for these Eastern Cape farmers that urgently need drought relief.

By Brian Hayward 2010/01/16

A DEVASTATING drought has mired the Eastern and Southern Cape’s agricultural sector in one of its worst crises in living memory – one which farmers and analysts warn could soon result in massive job losses.

The industry’s predicament, blamed on government’s slow reaction to natural disasters, has seen several farming communities in the region, depended on by thousands for employment, teeter on the brink of collapse.

They have waited many months – in some cases years – for promises of emergency funds from national government to materialise after being declared disaster areas.

The vital funds promised have in many cases been drastically reduced or scrapped entirely, and the situation will not soon improve due to the more than R70-billion shortfall in last year’s tax collection because of the ailing economy, likely to see government spending for 2010/11 drastically cut.

With much of the Eastern Cape still in the throes of the crippling drought, funds promised in early September last year when much of the province was declared a disaster area have yet to be received from national government, while in the Langkloof in the Southern Cape the region’s largest deciduous fruit-growing community has still not received emergency funds after floods ravaged the area in November 2007, destroying dams and crops.

“There is no date set for the province to receive emergency relief funds from national government as this is dependent on approval by the national Cabinet,” said Eastern Cape superintendent-general of the Department of Local Government and Traditional Affairs, Stanley Khanyile.

In the Langkloof, the water crisis has forced fruit farmers to borrow millions of rands against this year’s crop to repair broken dam walls after government funds failed to arrive, but because of the delay in making the repairs and the drought, the repaired dams were never filled and are running dry.

When Weekend Post visited the Langkloof this week farmers revealed they had little more than a month’s supply of irrigation water left – in many cases too little to save their export crop of apples, scheduled to be harvested in early March.

The region, which spans 140km along the Southern Cape from Humansdorp to inland of Knysna, has up to 9000 permanent labourers in season and is home to 6000ha of apple orchards, as well as hundreds of hectares of pears, plums, peaches and nectarines.

Last year it generated R450-million in gross revenue from exports and R150-million from the local market.

“We have enough water until February 20 when all our dams will be dry. Every cent to grow this crop has already been spent. All we need now is to irrigate (until harvest time),” said Andre de Wit, one of the biggest fruit farmers in the region with several farms and 250 employees in season. “This is the worst (drought) I’ve experienced in 39 years of farming here. The farmers are living on faith. We need at least 120mm of rain within the next month to save us.”

After floods hit the Langkloof in 2006 and again in 2007, a freak hailstorm wiped out most of the apple crop last year just days before harvesting was due to start.

The area was earmarked to receive R97-million in disaster relief for the 2007 floods, but although the provincial government claims the requests for funds were submitted, national government claims it never received them. A new assessment is now about to be carried out after which a request for the “emergency funds” will be resubmitted.

“Farmers here have used all their available funds to repair dams. If the government funds (for the 2007 floods) had come through (shortly after the disaster was declared), our dams would have been fixed and we would have had enough water to see us to harvest time,” said De Wit.

Fellow farmer Piet Kiewiets, chairman of the Letabakop Workers’ Trust which represents 240 farm labourers in the area and who co-own two farms in a black economic empowerment initiative, said already 25ha of apples and pears had been written off because there was simply not enough water to irrigate.

“This would have been our best crop since we started four years ago. It’s terrible to watch (the crop die) because there’s nothing we can do about it” Kiwiets said. “We are still waiting for government funds to cover our dam repairs and to fix the other four dams. If we had received the funds soon after the floods, the dams could have been fixed and would have had enough water.”

This week farmers in the area held an emergency meeting to discuss the fast-emptying major supply dam in the community of Haarlem which is just 35% full. When it reaches 23% capacity – in possibly three weeks’ time – farmers’ irrigation supply will be cut off and the remaining supply reserved for personal consumption.

“Some farmers are already without drinking water because they have used their quota (from the Haarlem dam),” said Stander.

In the east of the region the largest district municipality, Cacadu, which spans 60000km², is urgently awaiting funds from national Treasury, while neighbour Amathole District Municipality is also incurring massive costs having to tank water to towns such as Adelaide and Bedford which have run dry.

“Unfortunately nothing has been received as yet, primarily because of (national) budget constraints due primarily to the poor economic conditions over the past year,” said Cacadu municipal manager Ted Pillay. “It’s quite a difficult predicament.”

According to Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture and Rural Development insiders, the department has already overspent its 2009/10 budget by more than R120-million and has no funds left to aid struggling communities.

Farmers’ association Agri Eastern Cape this week held crisis talks with the provincial agriculture department where it was promised R27-million in drought relief would be doled out in a month’s time – a far cry from the R93-million needed.

Agri EC president Cerneels Pietersen said: “Because of the slow reaction time, many farmers have run into cash flow problems and have already cut back on staff.”

4 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the government don´t actually want the farmers to be saved, forcing them to sell up and move? It could just be another way of grabbing land. The government could then buy the land and hand it over to black farmers with hefty aid packages. Job done, without any comebacks.

Anonymous said...

Correct. There is no point in wasting a good disaster.

Anonymous said...

This is excellent. The sooner all the White farmers fuck off the sooner Kaffirs will die in their millions of starvation.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the ANC are short-sighted and don't think that farming is that important to their ultimate goal of power? They will reap what they sow in a few decades - no farms to provide food to their hungry sheeple.