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July 06, 2008

South Africa's Western Cape farmers battle with drought

Scored of farmers in the South Africa's Karoo region have left their properties because of a severe drought and Agri Wes-Cape warns that many more will go out of business if the national government does not release critical relief funding.

Carl Opperman, agricultural economist at(farmers' group) Agri Wes-Cape, said conditions in the Karoo were deteriorating and farmers were battling to keep their livestock alive.

A growing number of farmers in the central Karoo have left their farms because of the drought and delays in the release of R37-million($4.7 million) in critical relief funds the national government is expected to release. However, there was no indication yet of when, or if, the critical funds would be released.

The first request for relief funding was sent to the National Department of Agriculture in March, after the province's drought assessment committee visited the drought-stricken areas.

Roux described the situation at farms in the Prince Albert and Merweville areas as "very serious." He said the farmers were struggling to get fodder for their livestock. Many had already disposed of their excess stock and now only had breeding animals left on the farms.

Farmworkers were left with no income when farms closed. This had an impact on local communities whose sole income was agriculture.

Opperman said the drought would affect the agricultural stability of the area, which would have long-term implications.

Meanwhile, the income of an increasing number of farmers had dropped by more than a third.

"They can't do anything because their bank accounts are frozen and their co-op accounts are frozen," said Opperman.

He said many were relying on the goodwill of their relatives and other farmers in areas not affected by the drought. But while neighbouring farmers were able to give them fodder, the struggling farmers were often unable to afford the transportation costs of getting the food to their farms.

"These are the serious challenges we have to manage."

Opperman said the delay was in Pretoria, which had to give the green light for the release of drought relief funding. "But there is a bottleneck there that could have to do with capacity. Pretoria needs to give the go-ahead and they have not."

Western Cape MEC for Agriculture Cobus Dowry said the province was "very worried" about the farmers' plight and was in constant contact with the national government and the Treasury about the funding.

However, as yet, no money had been released by these authorities.

The Star

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