South African commercial farmers have approached the government and banks for financial assistance. REUTERS African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG - South African commercial farmers have approached the government and banks for financial assistance as warnings emerge that the dry weather and hot conditions could decimate crop and livestock just three years after the country grappled with the worst drought on record.

The farmers’ lobby group, AgriSA, on Friday said that the country was facing a perfect storm that could affect production in the agricultural industry.

AgriSA sait it needed to raise at least R3 billion to assist producers hardest hit by the drought

AgriSA chief executive Omri van Zyl said the drought had spread across all sectors, stressing that maize farmers in North West and Free State were at their wits end.

Van Zyl said the production of livestock, wine, fruit, ostrich and red meat had also been affected in the provinces of Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Limpopo, among other regions.

He said 32 000 jobs had been lost already in the sector in the past four months.  

“We are very concerned that it’s going to get worse,” Van Zyl said.  “We need intervention from government. This is almost a national disaster. This will have an impact on food price inflation and job creation.” 

The fears comes as reports indicate that farmers in North West and Free, which produce 72 percent of the total white maize harvest in the country, were struggling to plant the crop due to severe drought in the provinces.

A survey in December showed that at least R7 billion rand had been lost as a result

of the drought.

The  Agricultural Business Chamber said ti was also in in talks with government, banks and businesses about support for the industry.

The Red Meat Producers Association has also raised alarm.

“As the situation stands, we are going to lose farmers, we are going to lose livestock,” the association’s chief executive Gerhard Schutte said. “We need drought aid. If that aid isn’t in place by the beginning of winter, we really have serious problems.”

The Department of Agriculture said it was also concerned about the effect of the drought on maize production.

Director General Mike Mlengana said the government would be engaging farmers in the next few weeks to ensure food security.

Mlengana said the drought had become an issue of national interest.

“If basic maize is not there as a result of the drought then we need interventions right now. All we need now is to respond pragmatically,” he said.“The truth of the matter is that we are having a disaster. We need to respond, we need to be seen to be responding pragmatically and not paying lip-service.”

Econometrix chief economist Azar Jammine said the R3bn could help affected farmers plant a little bit of the maize crop and stem the impact of declining production.

“There is reason for government assistance. When there is a drought commodity prices tend to increase,” said Jammine.

“For example the price of maize has gone by 60 percent in the past few months.”

Agricultural economist Fanie Brink said the drought was more serious than anticipated.

“It’s very serious, it’s even more serious now that I even thought. Look, the R3bn might not be enough but if the farmers can’t get the money we might have to import white maize,” he said.“The situation is bad.”

- BUSINESS REPORT