Business / Business News
Chisom Jenniffer Okoye
The “erratic” weather and financial constraints have combined to make this a “tough time for South African agriculture”, according to an agricultural economist.
“Most regions have finally received a reprieve” with some rain, allowing farmers to begin their planting activities for the season, department of water and sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said yesterday.
But below-average rainfall and high temperatures had worsened the water situation.
“We are nowhere near the water recovery we were hoping for this season,” Ratau said. “There has been a decline of dam levels nationally, which is above the average of 1%, so we are in a much worse situation than last year.”
There were pockets of water concerns around eight of SA’s nine provinces. Gauteng was in a better state compared with other provinces, he said.
But Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, said although the relative lack of rain had caused delays, it had not stopped farmers from planting.
“The rains have enabled farmers to get on with it,” said Sihlobo. “Mpumalanga has planted roughly 80% of its intended maize hectares for the 2019/20 production season.
“KwaZulu-Natal has planted about 40%, and eastern Free State approximately 35% of the area. The Eastern Cape is still at initial stages of planting.
“While this is encouraging, it is way off the optimal maize planting window, which closed on November 15, with the probability of potential frost later. In such an event, maize yields would be negatively affected.”
Although farmers had intended to plant 2.5 million hectares, this may not be possible.
“We hear discussions among commercial and developing farmers about difficulties in accessing capital for this season,” said Sihlobo. “This is a result of the drought-induced poor harvests from previous seasons, which weighed on farmers’ finances, and risk that financial institutions are seeing on the back of unpredictable weather.
“Overall this is a tough time for SA agriculture. Over the next three months, the weather will be an important factor. Also, January 29 is a crucial date to inform us about the hectares that farmers have planted.”
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