The KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, Kwanalu, conducted an online survey in November, amongst its members, 81 Farmer’s Associations and commodity affiliates in the province, in order to fully assess and understand the extent of the effects of the drought on the industry.
A thorough response was received, providing Kwanalu with a unique understanding of the dire circumstances many members are experiencing, enabling the union to comment on and inform the national assessment undertaken, as well as provide quantitative inputs and recommendations.
The results of the survey show a very serious situation on farms in KZN with the majority feeling among respondents being that there are little or no proactive actions being undertaken in order to address the drought or support the industry.
The results of the survey indicate that if the drought is compared to “normal conditions at this time of the year”, 35-40% of farmers feel the situation is worse than normal for this time of year, with almost 60% reporting the situation as “bad”.
The results indicate 75% of farmers have not experienced any significant rainfalls, with 25% reporting they had experienced good levels of rain (recently only).
90% of respondents indicate that low dam levels have had a negative impact on irrigation potential, with 20% of farmers reporting not being able to irrigate at all, 60% reporting water availability being reduced significantly and a further 20% experiencing a moderate reduction in water levels.
Water available for livestock is shown as significantly lower than average, while water availability for domestic, municipal and industrial use recording only just a bit higher than average and groundwater or surface water levels indicated at very low levels.
The survey reveals that the current level of fodder available for livestock is well-below moderate, with the general condition of veld and grazing, at even worse levels.
The survey asked respondents to indicate if drought assistance was to be made available, where they would require support; listed in order of need, they responded as follows:
- Fodder/feed for livestock
- Subsidization of interest on loans
- Control of invasive plants
- Fire and drought awareness programmes
- Borehole repairs and maintenance
- Subsidization of interest on produce
- Rebates on livestock reduction
- Rebates on transport
The extent to which members have had to retrench farmworkers as a result of the drought is fairly moderate, with an increase in wild fires also being reported as fairly moderate. In addition, the impact of the drought on recreation and tourism-based revenue agri- businesses records averages between low and moderate. Farmers also indicated that the level of financial support is very low, with support from financial institutions also as insufficient. Approximately 48% of members revealed health issues including depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns as a result of the economic pressure the drought places on them and their businesses.
The survey also gathered some general comments from farmers, some which read as follows:
- 2019 has been the worst year for rainfall in 110 years, with only 12mm of rain recorded in October and 17mm of rain in November.
- If the province wants to survive, certain concepts/ actions need to be put into place such as the drilling of boreholes, the building of dams and training and development on how to survive in times of drought.
- For areas experiencing drought for three or more years, fodder banks are not an option.
- Stock numbers have reduced overall in the region affecting taxable income, causing cashflow problems.
- Invasive plants impact on grazing areas as well as utilizing water.
- If above average rain is not received in the near future, stocks will need to be reduced.
- The need for dams will also help with irrigation systems and halt invasive plants from taking over the minimal grazing areas.
- Fodder production for the coming winter is under pressure, adding pressure to already depleted stocks.
- On river systems there is need for better cooperation between irrigation boards and the Department of Water Affairs (DWS). If the relationship with DWS is improved, farmers may see objectives being met in a more sustainable amount of time.
- We require support for going off the grid; Eskom charges are not sustainable.
- Communal areas are far worse off with cattle deaths.
- Worst drought conditions I have seen in my 50 years of farming in our area
- Worst drought in 100 years
In the survey, one respondent wrote the following “We are suffering a ‘green drought’ which, in conjunction with the increase in sugar tariffs and the Government’s inability to react to the drought situation, has led to suppressed market prices and elevated input costs. This all means massive economic impact which may negatively impact employment in the region as us farmers try to streamline and maximize efficiency in order to keep our businesses afloat”.
Another farmer commented saying, “We reduced our herd size pre-winter and we have only just been able to manage our grass resources. Those farmers who have not planned, will definitely have run out. We are experiencing record mortality of trees in mature pine plantations and are forced to fell these trees to get them to market before the timber rots. So, though we have not “lost money” necessarily, our harvesting costs are going to be extremely high resulting in unbudgeted taxes needing to be paid.”
CEO of Kwanalu, Sandy La Marque, thanked farmers for the exceptionally high number of responses and the caliber of information provided in the online survey.
“With the high response rate and the subsequent key information gathered and analysed, Kwanalu is able to lobby and inform stakeholders of the situation in the province. Engagements have already taken place with banks and stakeholder engagement will remain ongoing,” said La Marque.