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KZN: Worst drought in 100 years – Agricultural union survey reflects farmers’ concerns and requirements

The Mercury

17 Dec 2019

KAREN SINGH

DESPITE the recent heavy rains in some parts of KwaZulu-Natal, an online survey conducted by the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) revealed that the province was experiencing its “worst drought in 100 years”.

Kwanalu members from 81 farmers’ associations and commodity affiliates were asked to take part in the survey to assess and understand the extent of the effects of the drought on the industry.

The union said a thorough response was received, providing Kwanalu with a unique understanding of the dire circumstances of many members.

As a result, Kwanalu’s Sandy la Marque said the union was 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.

The union said the survey showed farmers felt few or no proactive actions had been undertaken to address the drought or support the industry.

The survey indicated that 35-40% of farmers felt the situation was worse when compared with “normal conditions at this time of the year”.

Almost 60% reported that the situation was “bad”.

The survey also indicated that 75% of farmers had not experienced any significant rainfalls, while 25% reported good levels of rain recently.

Ninety percent of respondents indicated that low dam levels had had a negative impact on irrigation potential and 20% of farmers reported not being able to irrigate at all.

Sixty percent reported water availability had been reduced significantly and a further 20% experienced a moderate reduction in water levels.

“Water available for livestock is shown as significantly lower than average and the level of fodder available for livestock is well below moderate, with the general condition of veld and grazing at even worse levels,” said the union.

If drought assistance were made available, farmers indicated that they would require support for fodder to feed livestock, subsidisation of interest on loans, control of invasive plants, fire and drought awareness programmes, borehole repairs and maintenance; and subsidisation of interest on produce grants, rebates on livestock reduction and rebates on transport. General comments were gathered. One respondent said: “Worst drought conditions I have seen in my 50 years of farming in our area.”

Another said: “The year 2019 has African News Agency (ANA) been the worst year for rainfall in 110 years, with only 12mm of rain recorded in October and 17mm of rain in November.”

Another farmer said: “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.”

Yet another said they required support for going off the grid because Eskom’s charges were not sustainable.

“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 cash-flow problems,” added another farmer.

Last month KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala said a directive had been given for the development of a Consolidated Provincial Water Master Plan.

“This master plan will reflect the state of water provision in all wards in the province, as well as ‘quick win’ interventions designed to rectify any identified shortcomings in water provision,” said Zikalala.

He added that they would be implementing large-scale bulk infrastructure projects, such as raising the Hazelmere Dam wall, the uMkhomazi transfer scheme, the new uMfolozi Dam and lower Tugela Bulk Water Supply Scheme.

“We are also exploring alternative technology, such as water re-use and desalination, among other things. This will allow us to manage through periods of extreme events, such as the droughts and floods we are experiencing,” said Zikalala.

Stacy Colborne, a forecaster for the SA Weather Service, said Vryheid, Ladysmith, Richards Bay, Pongola, Makatini, Babanango, UniZulu, Mtunzini, Ulundi and Riverview had had less rain than average.

“The rainfall figures indicate the driest month was September, with a steady increase in rainfall over these areas from October to November, which should relieve the drier conditions that have been experienced over northern KZN,” Colborne said.