The Eastern Cape Province is experiencing its worst drought in 50 years, Cerneels Pietersen, president of Agri Eastern Cape, told Farmer’s Weekly. The drought started in the western parts of the province, but has now reached the former Transkei.
Current conditions justify classifying large areas as disaster areas. The water table has dropped over the past three years to such an extent that boreholes are running dry and water needs to be trucked to farms for human and animal consumption, Pietersen said.
R20 million that was made available in the 2008/2009 budget for drought relief has already been spent and Agri Eastern Cape has written to the premier’s office asking for further assistance. Last week, the provincial department of agriculture announced that R20 million was available, but agricultural leaders say this is the money that’s been spent. The department could not be reached to clarify the matter.
Rainfall has been below-average but the thunderstorms caused more damage than anything else, Pietersen said. Natural grazing has now deteriorated to the point that animals are dying. He stressed that a coordinated effort from government is needed to address agricultural disasters and that it’s not good enough to finance these disasters from a discretionary fund, as is presently the case. During the recent floods in the Western and Eastern Cape, the departments of local housing received money, but nothing has been forthcoming for agriculture, Pietersen said.
According to Fikile Black, Eastern Cape agriculture department spokesperson, they are already investigating the extent of the crisis. While some farmers in the province have already received funds, they were compiling a request to be forwarded to the national department for additional funding.
Farmers in drought-stricken areas should contact their local agricultural offices to enable the department to conduct proper assessment of the current situation, Black said. Farmers are also urged to comply with the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act with regard to correct stocking rates and grazing capacities, as this will help ease further degradation of natural veld. – Wouter Kriel