view of wheat 3

Drought Set to Push Up Food Price

05 December 2018
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Shelves of food

The price of food is expected to rise sharply in the New Year as a result of the on-going drought in the Eastern Cape

How the drought will affect farming in the Eastern Cape

Agri Eastern Cape President Dougie Stern said rolling heat waves, strong winds and little follow-up rain after the September downpour had quickly dispensed with the gains made – and now groundwater, a crucial resource for farmers, was declining. He warned that the drought would be disastrous for consumers if it continued – although the prices would still go up, even if it eased.

“If the drought intensifies, then we can expect some disastrous consequences – for example, food prices, in particular, meat prices, will increase.”

Stern said one of the factors that would have a massive impact on food prices was the cash flow of farmers, who were already under financial pressure due to the drought.

“The impact will be felt in the new year,” he said. “The Christmas period sees an escalation typically [in prices] because of the higher demand, but I think the increase in food prices is going to be from January, in the first quarter of the new year, if we don’t get rain.

“But even if we do get a good rain, there’s not going to be a surplus of meat because of the impact of the drought over the year.

“As far as vegetables are concerned, it will be much the same thing – the Gamtoos River has a bit of water for the farmers in the Hankey and Patensie area so there will be a certain amount of vegetables planted, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to satisfy the demand.

“So the prices of food will climb, specifically in the early part of next year.”

The drought effects on grazing

Komga farmer Monwabisi Matolengwe said the grazing grass was burnt, dams and rivers were dry, and livestock and crop farmers were being equally severely affected. No comment was available from the department of rural development and agrarian reform, but the DA pointed to research indicating that a fresh onset of the dreaded El Nino hot weather phenomenon was on its way, and called for an urgent proactive counter-plan to be put in place.

The national department of water affairs said the Eastern Cape’s main supply dams had dropped to a combined level of 62.7% and “heatwaves are becoming stronger week by week”.

Port Elizabeth water consultant David Raymer said the good rains in September were an anomaly and had changed little.

“We were lucky that it fell in the catchments, pushed up the level of our dams and bought us time.

“But we are still in the same drought cycle that we were in.”

Stern said the whole province was bone dry, from Aberdeen to Komga to Matatiele.

“We’ve had an extreme cold even in November, followed by extreme heat, so conditions have not been conducive to growth. There are fires all over the place. Not a pip has been planted.

“Lambing and calving are underway, but there is no food for the animals.

“This is our fourth consecutive year of drought, and it’s even worse than it was before the September rains because now the water table is faltering, which is a tremendous concern.”

What does the Department of Rural Development have to say on the drought matter

Questions were sent to the department of rural development on Wednesday, but no response had been received by the time of going to print. It looks as if consumers will be hit by a hot, dry and expensive new year as farmers face the disastrous effects of the Eastern Cape’s prolonged drought. The Herald reports today on how the agricultural sector is suffering, with Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Stern noting that the whole province is bone dry, which makes it not only difficult to plant crops but also to raise livestock. The most relevant impact on city dwellers, of course, is that food prices – particularly for meat and fresh produce – are expected to rise sharply in the new year.

This will, unfortunately, come just at a time when the summer holiday glow is fading, and pockets are empty after the festive season. However, on a broader scale, the inevitable increase in the cost of everyday items in the grocery trolley also affects inflation, pushing it higher. This, in turn, may have a significant – negative – impact on our economy.

September’s rains did push up the level of our dams and bought time, but perhaps it is time farmers – and the authorities – need to re-examine how and what we farm in this province.

This is even more imperative due to the threat of global climate change and the frightening spectre of El Nino rearing its head in the future. Food security and employment will be affected. There are major concerns here. This is why the sector cannot wait until there is a crisis and then seek financial relief.

It is imperative that both farmers and the state need to be proactive, and look at effective, long-term strategies to ensure the sustainability of the province’s agricultural sector.

In the end, it will fall to government and the farmers to work out ways of averting what seems to be a catastrophe in the making. We are all in this right now, but they in particular need to look at what can be done now to ensure that this gloomy scenario will not be repeated a year, or even a few months, from now.