Drought support stabilises rural agriculture

Since 2015 the Western Cape is in the midst of a severe drought that affects many sectors in the agricultural sector. Analyses done by the University of Cape Town have shown that the current year is equivalent to a 1:325 year drought (). Up to end September 2017, the province has received 30 percent less rainfall than the long-term average. This resulted in abnormal low water levels in the storage dams, both for the major government and on-farm storage dams. This situation will result in an extremely challenging summer season for irrigated crops and many cash crops cannot be planted due to a lack of water. Stock farmers have been experiencing poor veld conditions with little or no grazing for their animals since 2015.

Drought relief in the form of fodder for animals are provided in terms of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA), Act 43 of 1983. The protection and conservation of the veld is one of the objectives of the act and when fodder is supplied, animals are removed from the veld to allow the optimal utilisation of whatever rain does fall to revitalise the veld.

Since 2015/16 the West Coast and Central Karoo districts have been proclaimed as drought disaster areas and later Kannaland and Witzenberg followed. This paved the way for support to stock farmers, but finding the financial resources in the difficult economic situation was and still is a major challenge.

Drought relief in the form of fodder for animals are provided in terms of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA), Act 43 of 1983.

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture (WCDoA) decided the only way out was to reprioritise their budget to make funding available to support stock farmers with fodder for their animals.

Strict rules are applied when this support is provided to ensure the optimum utilisation of government funding, as well as to prevent the misuse thereof. Farmers are expected to reduce their stock numbers by at least one third during drought conditions. Each farmer needs to submit a stock register to ensure no overgrazing occurs, i.e. the number of animals is in line with the carrying capacity of the specific farm. This is necessary to protect the natural veld conditions as per CARA requirements.

Farmers that qualify for assistance then receive an authorisation voucher that indicates the value of the fodder that can be purchased, their own contribution required and a guarantee that the WCDoA will pay the service provider for the fodder provided. With this voucher the farmer obtains the fodder from a service provider and signs the delivery note. The invoice and delivery note are presented to the local departmental official for checking and signing off. It is then sent to the Head Office of the Department at Elsenburg for processing and payment to the service provider. No money is thus paid to any farmer.

The continuous updating of the drought assistance database, the issuing of authorisation vouchers and the processing of payments to the service providers are done by a small, dedicated team to which much gratitude is owed. It is a daunting task and long hours, of which many is at night or early in the morning.

Up to end of August 2017 the following funding was made available and spent on drought relief:

Source of funding Amount (R million)
Reprioritised WCDoA budget 66.789
Reprioritised CASP budget 10.804
Donation AgriSA 2.5
Total 80.093
Spent by end Aug 2017 60.395
Balance 19.698

The September 2017 vouchers issued amount to R11.8 million, which leaves a balance of R7.898 million for further drought assistance.

Fortunately an allocation of R40 million was received from the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). This is in addition to the R12 million of fodder supplied by DAFF directly to farmers in December 2016/January 2017.

Should vouchers be issued every two months, the funding available will allow WCDoA to continue with drought support up to March 2018.

In addition to the above numbers, R1.5 million was also used in 2015/16 to provide a livelihood support to smallholder grain farmers and their agri-workers in the Swartland, which lost more than 50% of their harvest due to the dry conditions in the winter of 2015.

To date 1 482 farmers (smallholder, communal and commercial) were supported with fodder for more than 89 300 small stock units. The funds made available have contributed towards sustaining farming in the severe drought conditions, supported the protection of the genetic material of core stock herds and played an important role in supporting many households and agri-workers in the rural areas of the province.

For more information, contact:
Andre Roux, andrer@elsenburg.com