Cape Town - With one of the wettest seasons in a long time and the province’s dams filling up faster than expected, the agricultural sector isn’t doing the rain dance yet, warning that the impact of the recent drought on jobs and crop yields are still being felt.
According to The Crop Estimates Committee’s (CEC) sixth report for South Africa’s 2018/2019, released at the end of July, the summer season grain and oilseed production is a mixed bag, with maize and sunflower seed figures rising, and those of soya bean and sorghum decreasing.
Chris van Zyl, of the commercial farmers union TLU SA (Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa), yesterday cautioned that the north western parts of the province, as well as the Karoo, have been less fortunate as far as the rains are concerned and farmers are not completely in the clear yet.
He said: “This means we can expect that in those regions, production levels similar to last year, or even less, in the serious drought stricken areas.”
Allowing for a ray of hope, Van Zyl added: “It seems as if the levels of optimism are noticeably higher than a year ago.”
This cautious optimism was backed by Jannie Strydom, chief executive of Agri Western Cape, who said: “For the most part the winter grain crops are looking good at the moment, but the Eden and Hessequa districts need much more rain.
“Though catchment dams are filling up, irrigation dam levels remain low, so the Agri sector of the province is not out of the woods yet.”
Agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer said: “It is too early to start looking at the impact of the current rainy season. Water restrictions are still at 10% for most municipalities and the agriculture sector.”
Even in the internationally famous South African wine industry, caution is the watchword. Wines of South Africa (WOSA) communications manager Maryna Calow said: ”So far, if we compare year-on-year moving annual total, from July last year to June, the figures are down, however, we can directly relate this to our harvest and yield.”
Calow said that, in 2018, the grape harvest was down roughly 14%.
The industry had anticipated a slight rise in yield for 2019, but instead their figures dropped by about 5%.
Meanwhile, the situation remains grim for farm workers, especially those who were laid off during the prolonged drought.
Meyer said: “Most farmers have had to restructure debt and find themselves in a situation of having to get back to full production and that any proposed intervention will have to boost the farmers cash-flow, which will result in increased spending on inputs and, more importantly, re-employ labour in the area.”
Regarding reported job losses in the industry during the 2017 drought, Van Zyl said: “As matters currently stand, significant job losses have not been reported to us by our members in the region.”
Colette Solomon, director of the NGO Women on Farms, said: “The general trend in farming is towards the casualisation of labour and, especially, women farm labourers.”
Solomon said: “The drought was a blip but it exacerbated the situation of casual women farm labourers.
“While good rains might mean a slight increase in availability of work for these women, these structural trends in agriculture will continue and women labourers will be worse off in the long run.”
According to Solomon casualisation of labour works in favour of the farmers but not the farm workers.