More than 60% of the country’s municipalities have reportedly been affected by the latest drought, with farmers in dire need of financial and emotional support as 31 000 jobs have been lost since the beginning of last year.
In a survey by agricultural organisation AgriSA, conducted between December last year and January this year, 70% of the respondents with livestock as their main commodity said water availability was at severe stress levels.
More than 50% had to retrench farm workers as a result, while the same amount of respondents reported experiencing depression, anxiety or other behavioural health conditions, AgriSA said.
The Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and North West were severely affected, with Mpumalanga being moderately affected and Gauteng’s drought conditions being stable.
Challenges in the grain sector remained, as it could not make up for the lost crops after the 2016 drought, Grain SA CEO Jannie De Villiers said.
“The grain sector was in a stronger position in 2016. After that, we had two great crops but the prices of maize were extremely low and the farmers couldn’t make enough to recover from what happened in 2016. Although farmers could apply for loans to assist their farming, returns are not guaranteed due to unpredictable climate change,” De Villiers explained.
“An average farmer borrows R10 million a year to plant and then waits for the rain. We saw a lot more hail in Mpumalanga but those plants will never recover from that. We need to put structures in place, such as a crop insurance scheme to help farmers.
“Unfortunately, there is reluctance to give farmers insurance, especially in the western parts of the country, due to the risks that come with climate change,” De Villiers said.
The red meat industry was also impacted, with production prices of lamb and beef carcasses decreasing since January this year.
The producer price of a weaner calf has decreased year-on-year by 33%, and the producer prices of lamb and beef have dipped by 15% and 11% respectively.
The increased costs of maize also created uncertainties, Red Meat Producers Association’s Gerhard Schutte said.
“Our message to government is the need for economic growth and policy certainty. We are going to lose farmers, livestock and livestock owners. We need drought aid urgently. If this aid isn’t in place by the beginning of winter, we will have problems,” Schutte said.
The farming industry required at least a R3 billion injection to aid drought-stricken areas and farms, said AgriSA CEO Omri Van Zyl.