Farmers’ lives have become unbearable because of the national drought, leading to an increase in suicides. File photo: REUTERS.

AgriSA is urging the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department to pull up its socks in addressing the looming drought crisis, which the organisation says risks destroying food security for the country.

According to AgriSA executive director Omri van Zyl, the current drought has affected more than 37% of SA’s rural communities with substantial negative effects on agricultural production.

On Wednesday, the organisation also released its report on the state of drought in the country.

“Real agricultural output was 9.2% lower in the first half of 2019 than in the corresponding period of 2018. The drought conditions of 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2019 have left many maize producers in the North West and parts of the Free State in a very challenging environment. In these years, produces not only suffered substantial yield losses, but several producers could also not plant their intended maize area,” the report reads.

The report said this has placed increased financial strain on farmers who were getting more indebted.

“The Western Cape drought has had a big effect on total production, with export volume down 25%, on average, comparing the 5 years running from 2008/9 to 2012/13 to the 5 years from 2013/14 to 2017/18,” the report says.

The report recommended swift action by government, including the provision of financial assistance to address developmental needs for farming communities, including investment in water harvesting techniques and infrastructure as well as legislation

“A significant and sustained attempt should be undertaken by the government to ensure that an extension service becomes an integral part of disaster risk management at both the provincial and local level.

“In order to protect the natural resource base and encourage sustainable and good farming practices, policies on drought management should emphasise and enforce adherence to stocking rates, particularly for private tenure farmers,” the report reads.

AgriSA has however questioned government’s systems for assessing and managing drought.

“There is a need to develop and maintain a systematic approach to collecting data on drought (and other hazards) at all levels of government (national, provincial and local). This will clarify drought risk and conducting drought disaster impact assessments to inform policymaking,” says the report.

Van Zyl said the report had now been given to parliament by AgriSA.

IOL