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EC food prices rise, farmers at breaking point

Doug Stern

Photo: Agri Eastern Cape President Doug Stern.

POURING billions of rands into ailing state-owned enterprises like South African Airways, while paying mere lip service to agriculture, is one of the major problems impacting on Eastern Cape farmers, whose finances are at breaking point.

As a result, meat prices in the province are at an all-time high – and could escalate even further in the immediate future – with fruit and vegetables set to follow suit.

This is the stark warning issued by Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Stern, who was appointed to the national board of directors during Agri South Africa’s annual congress last month.

“Faced with the worst drought in 100 years, farmers’ cashflows have been exhausted,” Stern said.

“And while the government granted R400-million to the Land Bank for farmers in need – but pours billions into state-owned enterprises – farmers’ debt in South Africa has risen from R100-billion a couple of years ago to around R150-billion.”

In the Eastern Cape, he said, the debt was due to the intensity of the drought which was compounded by low rainfall, higher than average temperatures, heavy frosts well into spring in the higher lying regions and stronger than normal winds.

“The north-eastern part of the province – the Barkly East, Lady Grey, Aliwal North and Jamestown area – has had to deal with ravaging fires, destroying some 60 000 hectares of veld. Huge infrastructural losses, plus livestock losses, were suffered by these farmers,” said Stern.

“Fortunately, they have received some good rain, but because the animals are in poor condition, around 5,000 small stock were lost in the region due to the recent sudden cold spell.”

He said the province’s farmers had been forced to reduce their animal numbers drastically – even slaughtering their breeding flocks and herds.

“Once the drought has broken, farmers will be holding back animals to rebuild their flocks and herds resulting in fewer animals to market, which could make meat prices rise even further.”

According to Stern, the irrigation region around Hankey and Patensie is also facing huge problems, because of the extremely low level of water in Kouga Dam – sitting at around 13% of capacity.

“In the Langkloof, farmers’ dams are empty and their apple trees urgently need water during the blossoming process or they face huge losses.”

He said the last straw for many Eastern Cape farmers would be the increased labour costs as a result of the state’s determination to force the national minimum wage through on May 1, 2018, even though the negotiating process would not have been completed by then.

“However, I believe that our farmers are resilient and will bounce back. Over the last 20 years agricultural production has increased by 40%, in spite of the drought and the lower number of farmers on the land.

“One of the reasons for this is the global technological revolution, agriculture being one of the industries in which it is most active, through the use of drones and electronic animal tagging. The scope for even higher production capacity in this country is huge.

“There are many positives and many bold initiatives which emerged from Agri SA’s conference which both Agri SA and Agri EC will be looking at, and implementing, in the coming year. It will take time to work on these developments, but change will come.”

Issued by Good News Lab

On behalf of Agri Eastern Cape

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