South Africa is facing a severe shortage of red meat as a result of the long-standing drought that has devastated the Eastern Cape farming community, as well as farmers in other parts of the country.
This comes as questions arise about the effectiveness of relief efforts by the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform.
The department has released R74 million in drought relief funding.
Doug Stern, president of Agri Eastern Cape, said commercial farmers had suffered huge losses and that it would take them a long time to recover.
“What we can predict is that there is going to be a huge shortage of meat once this drought is properly broken.
“I say that because farmers are going to have to hold their animals back and rebuild their flocks and herds, and that will create a shortage and put a lot of pressure on the supply chain. I am talking specifically of red meat. It is a given that people will not have as much of a supply of red meat as they are used to having.”
Farmers play a huge role in the province’s economy and we sympathise with them.
Ayongezwa Lungisa, spokesperson for Meth
Stern dismissed the notion that the drought had been broken, thanks to welcome rains that hit the province earlier this month.
“The cost of the severity of the drought, which has lasted for about five years, is immense. It means that we are going to need a lot of rain for the natural vegetation to recover fully. Secondly, our underground water resources have been depleted. We need huge amounts of rain for our underground water to be replenished.”Referring to government’s relief efforts, Stern said that although farmers were grateful to be receiving help, they were not happy with how things had been done.“
The manner in which government extended the drought relief package left a lot to be desired.
There were various irregularities. It could have been done better.
“What annoyed us is that government chose not to work with us as organised agriculture. We could have added value in helping it disperse the food along with the procurement. But it chose not to enlist our help and went about things on its own. The distribution is what worries us,” Stern said, explaining that the distribution of the relief funds was inconsistent and irrational.
While any desperate farmer will gratefully accept any help from government, the reality is that this help has come too little, too late.
“It is incomprehensible that when at least R600 million is needed in the worst-affected areas to keep farmers on their farms, save jobs and keep core herds alive for a 60-day period, the department – which made available only R74 million in aid – saw fit to irresponsibly distribute the funds in all districts and municipalities. Some of these were not even listed as severe or critical.“
It is expected that 30% of the commercial and emerging farmers in the severely affected areas will not survive unless significant assistance is provided by government. While the province allocated just R74 million for the drought, it is alleged to have allocated more than R100 million for its catering budget for 2020,” said Stern.
He said the distributions being made by MEC Nomakhosazana Meth and the department of rural development – to great fanfare – were having little effect.
“While any desperate farmer will gratefully accept any help from government, the reality is that this help has come too little, too late.
The whole process, beginning in October, when the provincial government declared this a drought disaster area – which was a challenge in itself to get done – and moving right through to the distribution phase, has been chaotic,” he said.
The DA has lodged an application, in terms of the Protection of Access to Information Act (Paia), for the department to reveal the details of how it has distributed drought relief funding in the Eastern Cape.
Describing the situation as “chaotic and uncertain”, Retief Odendaal, the DA’s spokesperson for rural development and agrarian reform, said the party was determined to fight for a vibrant commercial and emerging agricultural sector. “
The department must explain what is happening with the drought relief funding, as well as with the processes it has followed to identify beneficiaries,” he said.
Odendaal said there was evidence of irregular distribution allocations, in contravention of the department’s own policy regarding assistance ratios between commercial and smallholder farmers. “
Read: Drought is killing SA’s farmers
As part of the Paia application, I am requesting information regarding the tender processes and the contracts awarded in respect of the drought aid that has been made available to farmers in the Eastern Cape.”
He said that, despite sending numerous requests to the provincial department and Meth for clarity regarding the drought relief aid, little information was forthcoming. Odendaal said he believed that people in the province were being kept in the dark on purpose.
Ayongezwa Lungisa, spokesperson for Meth, confirmed that a request for a meeting was made in December by the DA to discuss the drought relief efforts, but the MEC had prior meeting requests to honour first, including one by farmer unions.
“The preoccupation of the MEC at the time was that the people of the Eastern Cape get relief assistance. It is only in February that the MEC will give the DA an opportunity to present whatever it wants to present,” said Lungisa.
He added that the drought was frustrating all farmers in the province.
“Farmers play a huge role in the province’s economy and we sympathise with them.”