File picture: Ahmad Masood
JOHANNESBURG - The national  Emergent Red Meat Producers Organisation (Nerpo) this week joined in the appeals for government relief, warning that livestock was dying in many parts of the country because of the drought.

The organisation said cattle, sheep and goats had succumbed to dry weather particularly in the Eastern Cape, Free State and Northern Cape provinces, with some areas last getting rain more than a year ago.

Nerpo called on government officials not to take advantage of the situation by pocketing money from the state at the expense of frustrated farmers.

“In previous years, there were allegations that the drought-relief funds disappeared in the hands of government officials and service providers before they reach the farmers,” said Nerpo.

The calls comes after a few days after industry lobby group AgriSA approached the government and banks in an effort to raise at least R3 billion to assist producers hardest hit by the drought.

This week the national Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) reported a significant decrease in maize production in 2018/2019.

The CEC said that maize, a food staple for millions of South Africans, was planted to an estimated total area of 2.269 million hectares (ha) in 2019, down 2.15 percent from the 2.319m ha planted in 2018.

Of the 2.319m ha, 1.257m ha was planted to white maize and 1.011m ha to yellow maize.

The CEC said the intention was to plant 2.4m ha to maize during this production season. It blamed less than favourable rainfall and warm temperatures in the large producing provinces of North West and Free State.

Wandile Sihlobo, agricultural economist and head of agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), stressed that these were initial estimates.

“There could be a revision next month and our view still leans towards a possible downward adjustment,” said Sihlobo.

He said South Africa’s maize consumption was about 10.8m tonnes a year and that a harvest of at least 10.4m tonnes or even as low as 8.0m tonnes would still ensure sufficient supplies for the country.

“There could be fairly large stocks of about 3.4m tonnes at the beginning of the 2019/20 marketing year in May 2019,” said Sihlobo.

He said the data released by the CEC did not change Agbiz’s food inflation outlook of a possible moderate uptick this year to an average of 5 percent despite the recent increase in maize prices.  

However, Dr Vuyo Mahlati, president of the African Farmers Association of SA, said the decrease in maize production implied that the expected yield might be less as compared to the previous season.

Mahlati said farmers had held back on planting more hectares because of he drought.

She said if the conditions persisted, food security would be at risk both at household and national levels.

“Important to note is that black farmers were already negatively affected by the fragmented planting support by government which resulted in late planting and others missing the season,” she said.

“However the implications for the consumer might not be immediate because of 3.5m carryover from last year, but if drought persists with poor planning and support, the picture might change drastically.”  - Additional reporting Bloomberg