On 11 November 2019, Agri Eastern Cape’s operational manager, Brent McNamara, sent through a letter to Agri SA, quantifying the impact of the drought on farming in the Eastern Cape.
This information was forwarded to Government in the hope of drought relief.
“The Eastern Cape, especially the Western half of the province, is in one of the worst droughts in living memory. Most farmers are down to about half the animals that they usually keep on their farms.
After five years of persistent lack of rain, one of the major problems facing the entire region is a lack of water. Many of the town dams have run dry which means that everyone is drawing more and more on underground water. This is certainly not sustainable as many farmers have reported that their windmills and boreholes have dried up.
Our concern is that as the economy slows down in these regions, the impact on the entire province is going to be disastrous. The ripple effect of retrenchments within the rural towns supported by primary agriculture is going to lead to even more unemployment.
The Eastern Cape straddles an area of 16 857 million hectares with a population of 6.5 million, mostly rural. This is the poorest of the nine provinces and the knock-on effect of the drought will have disastrous consequences, if government does not quickly step in and assist.
The Province has been declared a drought disaster area, but this means very little until such time as funding in huge volumes becomes available for use within the Eastern Cape.
The Eastern Cape has by far the largest numbers of livestock in the country. According to SA Statistics 2017, 24% of the country’s cattle, 38% of the goats, 29% of all the sheep within South Africa, are farmed in the Eastern Cape.
The Province has already experienced significant losses in crop and livestock production that resulted in an official drought declaration within 5 of the 7 Districts during the 2015/16 season…. The persistent drought conditions are still with us.
Currently three Districts have again declared. They are the Sarah Baartman District, the Amatole District and the Chris Hani District. As a result, a Provincial state of Drought Disaster has again recently been declared and gazetted.
The analysis of the current drought status in the Province is based on the national Standard Precipitation Index (SPI), Vegetative Condition Index (VCI) and the weather forecast maps.
Approximately one third of the Province is extremely/severely dry, with one third being moderately dry and one third being near normal.
Based on the official report from the EC Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, the following Districts and local Municipalities within the Province have been assessed as extremely and severely dry, expressed in percentages as follows:
- Sarah Baartman District 57,6 % with the Blue Crane Route Municipality at 77 % and the Dr Beyers Naude at LM at 65 %;
- Amatole District 40,1% with the Raymond Mhlaba LM at 85%;
- Chris Hani District 28,9% with the Inxuba Yethemba LM at 68%.
Dam levels within the Districts indicate that within the three districts declared, the average number of major dam levels that have declined over the last twelve months are as follows:
- Sarah Baartman District and the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro 5 out of a total of 10 dams with 6 dams below 50%;
- Amatole District 12 out of a total of 14 dams with 8 dams below 50%;
- Chris Hani District 11 out of a total of 14 dams with 6 dams below 50%.
This drought in these areas is affecting about 1 440 commercial farmers, 8 700 smallholder farmers and about 55 000 subsistence farmers.
These farmers collectively support in the region of 405 200 direct dependents, by means of primary agriculture.
According to estimates, livestock numbers decreased over the previous 12 months as follows: cattle by 55 000, sheep by 180 000 and goats by 72 000.
With a third of the province in a critical position, more than 1 million cattle, 2.1 million sheep and 600 000 goats face an uncertain future.
At least 30 million Rands worth of feed is going to be needed daily to prevent these animals from dying or having to be slaughtered.
With the weather predictions indicating that way below normal rainfall is expected within these areas until at least January 2020, fodder is going to be needed for at least the next two months. As such, to prevent the economic collapse of at least a third of the livestock sector within the Province, R1.8 billion worth of feed is going to be needed.
It is therefore imperative that the government puts together a financial package to assist agriculture, with immediate effect. Every day wasted means hundreds of animals are sold or die with serious long-term ramifications for farmers.”