Cape Town - South Africa’s driest weather in more than a century has destroyed more than 5 percent of the nation’s cattle and pork-breeding herds, fuelling food prices and hitting jobs, lawmakers heard on Tuesday.
The beef headcount was 13 million before the drought, Pieter Prinsloo, vice-chairman of the Red Meat Producers Organisation, said in a presentation in Parliament in Cape Town. The pork-breeding stock has been cut by a similar margin, or 6 000 sows, James Jenkinson, chairman of the the Pork Producers Organisation, said at the same sitting.
“The livestock industry needs to increase its calf percentage and lambing in order to rebuild the national herd,” Prinsloo said. It may take as long as four years for farmers to recover without the government’s financial assistance, he said.
The El Nino weather pattern last year prompted a drought with the least rainfall since 1904 in South Africa, decimating grazing and crops in the country. The dry weather, which extends to neighbouring countries, may leave 29 million people at risk of food shortages, according to the United Nation’s World Food Programme.
Pork-meat prices may increase by a quarter this year while the industry risks losing the jobs of about 10 percent of the 4 800 people it employs directly, Jenkinson said.
The drought has cut South African farming output and hurt manufacturing, curbing growth in the continent’s second-largest economy to an annualised 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter. About one in four workseekers is unemployed in the country.
The corn, wheat, sugar and livestock industries have been hit the hardest by the drought, while citrus farmers need urgent rains to avert long-term damage, according to AgriSA, the nation’s largest farmers’ lobby group.