DETERIORATING roads in the Langkloof are threatening to cripple the area’s billionrand fruit industry and have already cost farmers hundreds of thousands of rands in damages.
The state of the roads has made it impossible for farmers to transport produce to the market without damaging fruit. The bruised product subsequently fetches much lower prices, leading to losses of up to 10% of revenue.
After pleas to local and provincial authorities over the past two years have fallen on deaf ears, local farmers are now threatening to withhold municipal rates to raise enough money to maintain the roads themselves. Bad roads also lead to vehicle damage and keeps guests away from farm guesthouses, they say.
Some are concerned their lives could be at risk in the event of a medical emergency as it has become impossible to reach a hospital speedily.
Local farmer Danie Gerber said these roads – including the DRO1822, DRO1814, R402 and MR00388 – had not been maintained in two years.
No grading has been done by the state and many of these dirt roads, which are important thoroughfares for the farmers, are characterised by potholes, trenches and protruding rocks.
“With the recent rains, the roads have become even worse,” said Gerber.
He said the roads had deteriorated to such an extent that farmers had to fork out thousands for surface repairs just to be able to reach their farms and transport their fruit.
“I’ve spent around R10 000 and I know my three neighbours have also spent about the same to get the equipment in to do some maintenance ourselves. We have to do this at least twice a year.”
He added, however, that the biggest losses were from damage to the fruit. “It doesn’t matter how slowly and carefully you drive, the rough ride damages your fruit. You get much less for damaged fruit.”
Farmer Nico Ferreira said farmers battled to keep up with repairs to their vehicles and had to fork out thousands of rands to fix vehicle suspension and tyre damage. Langkloof Residence Association chairman Derick Vrey said the losses were “major knocks” for an area plagued by an unemployment rate of about 50%. “The fruit farmers are the biggest employers in the area and if they have to scale down due to losses like this, it is bad news for the whole area,” Vrey said.
In a petition sent to the KouKamma Municipality this month farmers demanded action. “Residents’ right to freedom of movement and dignity, as provided for by the constitution of the Republic of South Africa, is being affected,” the petition read.
It added that if the problem persisted, residents would withhold rates, deposit the funds into a separate bank account and use the money to pay for maintenance to their roads.
“We are paying for services that we don’t receive,” Ferreira said.
Similar problems have already wreaked havoc on the Sundays River Valley’s citrus industry, which is worth R1.5-billion a year.
Declining road conditions have led to only 60% of the area’s fruit being exported this year.
“Apart from the threat of thousands of job losses, the inaction by the province to respond to repeated calls for road maintenance is of serious concern,” DA MPL Dacre Haddon said.
It was “very sad” that farmers who contributed to the economy of the country and paid “enormous taxes” had to delve into their own pockets to maintain roads, when it was the government’s duty.
“I was at a roads meeting on Thursday and was informed there was currently an R81-million backlog.”
The Public Works Department had not responded to Weekend Post’s questions before going to print.