The declaration of a nation-wide state of disaster that appeared yesterday in the Government Gazette has taken agricultural organisations by surprise, given that large parts in the east of the country recently received good rains.
In a statement Agri SA, an agricultural industry association said: "The rationale behind this national disaster declaration remains unclear due to good rains and good production prospects in most provinces."
However, the organisation points out that four of the country's nine provinces (parts of Limpopo, the Northern Cape, parts of the Western and the Eastern Cape) have been experiencing a prolonged drought which are in dire need of drought relief.
"We appreciate the fact that provincial government can now access national resources to assist producers and communities affected by the drought," says Agri SA's disaster risk manager Andrea Campher.
"We understand that four of the provinces really do need assistance but we don't understand the rationale of including all provinces. We will be seeking clarity on how the funds will be allocated across all provinces to assist farmers especially those farmers and farm workers affected by the drought."
She adds that Agri SA is willing to work alongside government to mobilise affected communities.
Ivan Meyer, Western Cape Minister for Agriculture, welcomed the declaration, adding that the north and east of the Witzenberg regions in the Cape Winelands as well as the whole of the Central and Klein-Karoo are still very dry, with smaller areas critically dry.
The declaration was signed by the Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, on 26 February, the same day that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced the provisional allocation of R500 million [29.2 million euros] "to respond to the impact of recent floods and the ongoing drought."
Precarious situation for farmers of Letsitele and Gamtoos
One of the areas of most concern for the fruit industry is Letsitele in Limpopo, important citrus-producing region in the country. Last season growers already had to get by with only 30% of their water allocation and hundreds of hectares of citrus orchards either removed or receiving a meagre ration of water, only enough to keep it alive.
Citrus orchard in Letsitele
To the great joy of citrus and vegetable growers, recent heavy rains in the catchment area have increased the level of the Tzaneen Dam from 4% to 18.55%, but the dam's level needs to increase to at least 29% in order for the area to enter the new water year at the same level as the year before.
Farm dams in the area that were close to dry by the end of last year, are now between 50% to 100% full, but the expectation is that farmers will again receive only 30% of their water allocation from the provincial Tzaneen Dam.
Gamtoos Valley beautifully green but dam levels drop
In the Gamtoos Valley, Eastern Cape, the Kouga Dam stands at 17.5%, less than half of what it was last year. The dam level is better than it was this time two years ago (12%) but worryingly much lower than last year this time: 46.8%.
Since December until mid-February the area had around 150mm (more than its entire rainfall for 2019, producers note) but the concern is that it hasn't been raining much over its catchment area, the Langkloof.
"We've been worrying about drought for the past nine years," says a Gamtoos vegetable farmer. "At least we've been known to have a flood during every month of the year, so there's still hope."