The seven-year drought that has decimated the western parts of the Eastern Cape has farmers on their knees.
Despite continued calls on the Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, to declare these parts a disaster, the Eastern Cape provincial government seems hell-bent on refusing to assist farmers.
A capable state would be investing heavily in drought mitigation and water augmentation measures to support an economic sector that is one of the largest contributors to both job creation and the provincial GDP.
The Democratic Alliance has now approached the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, for her urgent intervention.
The ongoing drought has forced farmers, especially those in the central to western parts of the province, to feed their livestock for years. The drought conditions on farms in these districts have decimated natural grazing and have greatly reduced the carrying capacity.
The long-term feeding of livestock puts farmers under tremendous financial pressure, and is not sustainable.
Despite this, the provincial government has only made fodder available to some farmers on two occasions. The relief provided was barely enough to sustain existing stock for a few weeks, and serious questions were raised around the quality, quantity and distribution of the support offered.
Reports of underweight bales, price gouging and diversion of feed to farmers in areas that were not as severely affected, are still being investigated.
The prolonged drought has also had a devastating effect on water availability. In particular, farmers in the Sarah Baartman district face severe water shortages, as boreholes in certain parts are starting to dry up.
A petition from farmers to the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Land Reform for assistance with drilling boreholes at the end of last year fell on deaf ears.
Citrus and vegetable farmers in the Gamtoos Valley face total disaster because the Department of Water Affairs has cut their water allocation by about 80%. The farmers depend on the Kouga Dam, one of the largest storage dams in the Eastern Cape, which currently only has about 6.3% of its total capacity available.
The Kouga Dam is also one of Nelson Mandela Bay’s main storage dams.
Farmers need assistance with feeding their herds, and others need hydrology services. It is hoped that Minister Didiza will contact her provincial counterpart to ascertain the extent of the crisis.
The DA also personally invited the Minister to visit drought-stricken areas in the province.
We will continue to fight for farmers, both emerging and commercial, by placing pressure on the Eastern Cape Provincial Government to take on the responsibility of assisting farmers in their time of need.