DA calls for drought to be reclassified as a State of Disaster

During a recent oversight visit to the Central Karoo District, the Democratic Alliance (DA) was alarmed to find that recent rainfall has not alleviated the drought that has plagued the region for the past seven years, and that farmers there are on the brink of despair. We therefor call on the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to reinstate the classification of the drought as a State of Disaster that the Head of the National Disaster Management Centre, Dr Mmaphaka Tau, revoked on 16 July 2020, and to gazette all areas still affected by drought in all parts of the country.

Once the areas are gazetted, the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, should ensure that debt relief packages are made available through the Land Bank and commercial banks to ease the financial strain of farmers still suffering as a result of the drought.

The DA also urges Minister Didiza to call for an urgent agricultural climate summit to find long term solutions for those areas of South Africa that are vulnerable to drought.

My colleague, Daylin Mitchell, and I visited farmers whose livestock were dying from thirst and hunger. Farms in the Northern Cape and Central Karoo have been especially hard hit and suffers the added burden of big predators slaughtering weakened stock.

Farmers need coordinated support. Their debts are rising and becoming unbearable. National Treasury has been largely absent from providing support when required in agriculture. In the past, the Land Bank would host drought relief funds that would be channeled through the Bank in the form of cheaper loans. But for Land Bank to provide these drought relief funds, the areas must first be declared disaster areas.

And while every farmer in the country can agree that the Covid-19 pandemic had a massive impact on them, some farmers had to see their aid evaporate as R466 million in drought relief were redirected for Covid-19 relief for the agriculture sector – which some of them were not eligible to claim. These farmers have been served a double whammy: their drought relief aid was swallowed by another disaster and they are not allowed to claim aid for this second disaster they had to face.

Many farm workers lost their jobs due to the financial strain farmers faces from both the Covid-19 pandemic and the drought. And unless government starts taking the crisis seriously, many more livelihoods will be lost.

Farmers do not have infinite resources or plans. They cannot continue to weather the storm alone in perpetuity. They cannot face drought, livestock theft and farm attacks alone. They cannot be expected to carry the burden of feeding millions and then be left to fend for themselves.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) should have established a solidarity fund for drought relief eons ago. South African farmers would not be suffering the indignity of pleading for help while trying to ensure food security had the department shown any type of foresight or competency in the past.