Fields, fields every­where, not a mealie to be found

CityPress - - News - SONJA CARSTENS news@city­press.co.za

Fewer than half of the coun­try’s maize farm­ers were able to plant be­cause of the drought, plac­ing the coun­try’s food se­cu­rity in peril.

This week is make or break af­ter farm­ers in maize­grow­ing ar­eas who hoped for a wet Christ­mas were dis­ap­pointed.

Maize farm­ers in the western ar­eas of the coun­try can, ac­cord­ing to agri­cul­ture ex­perts, still try to plant by Thurs­day, at the lat­est, but there is no rain in sight.

Of the 1.37 mil­lion hectares ear­marked for white maize, less than half of it – 584 500ha – has been planted, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics ob­tained from Free State Maize (FSM), a com­pany that fi­nances farm­ers to pro­duce grain.

There are cur­rently 1.4ha of yel­low maize fields in pro­duc­tion, com­pared with a 2.6 mil­lion-hectare tar­get.

In Bothav­ille, known as the maize cap­i­tal of the coun­try, no more than a quar­ter of planned maize has been planted. The sit­u­a­tion is so dire that farm­ers have started re­turn­ing their seed and fer­tiliser.

It is es­ti­mated that with this year’s har­vest and a sur­plus of 1 mil­lion tons of white maize in si­los, there will only be enough white maize un­til Oc­to­ber.

Omri van Zyl, head of Agri SA, said much of the white maize in the si­los was al­ready con­trac­tu­ally linked. White maize was also not freely avail­able in­ter­na­tion­ally.

South Africa would be left with no choice but to im­port maize from Zam­bia and Mex­ico – at the mercy of the cur­rent weak ex­change rate.

Adri­aan Snyman, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of FSM, said this was the worst sit­u­a­tion they had ever seen.

“When maize was sell­ing at more than R3 000 a ton last year, many farm­ers sold their crops in ad­vance.

“Now the prize of maize is R4 500 a ton and th­ese farm­ers could not plant due to the drought.”

For those ready to plant this week, there is more bad news. No big rains are forecast for this week, al­though there will be scat­tered show­ers, ac­cord­ing to Kgoloselo Mahlangu from the SA Weather Ser­vice.

Pro­fes­sor Fran­cois En­gel­brecht, head re­searcher for cli­mate stud­ies, mod­el­ling and en­vi­ron­men­tal health re­search at the CSIR, said that from Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber the rain­fall in Le­sotho, KwaZulu-Na­tal and the east­ern parts of North West was be­tween 100mm and 200mm less than nor­mal.

In Mpumalanga, Lim­popo, the western parts of North West and the East­ern Cape in­te­rior, rain­fall was be­tween 50mm and 100mm lower than av­er­age.

“In some parts, not a sin­gle mil­lime­tre of rain was recorded. It is also the re­gion with the coun­try’s big­gest reser­voirs,” said En­gel­brecht. “In ad­di­tion, the drought has spread to the Cape south coast of Ge­orge and East Lon­don, which es­caped it un­til now.”

US space agency Nasa re­leased new satel­lite im­ages of the El Niño weather pat­tern and warned that the worst was yet to come. The im­age looks sim­i­lar to the 1997 El Niño. Big storms were still in store for the US, Nasa warned. Ac­cord­ing to En­gel­brecht, a sil­ver lin­ing for South Africa was that the pat­tern had be­gun to weaken here and would not con­tinue af­ter au­tumn.

“Of­ten, af­ter a strong El Niño, a strong La Niña fol­lows, which is the op­po­site.

“It can be ex­pected that South Africa will re­ceive good, wide­spread rain­fall in its next sum­mer-rains sea­son.” How­ever, this is cold com­fort for farm­ers now. Fran­cois Stry­dom, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of agribusi­ness Sen­wes, said the main prob­lem was now farm an­i­mals, as there had been very lit­tle pro­duc­tion of live­stock feed.

“Farm­ers are dip­ping into na­tional re­serves. Wa­ter is get­ting scarcer and dam lev­els are very low. They are drop­ping by 1% per week. The drought is now be­gin­ning to hit the whole coun­try,” he said.

Tom Mein­tjies, head man­ager of co­op­er­a­tive GWK’s grain prod­ucts, said it was not just maize be­ing af­fected.

“The price of grain has in­creased from R3 600 a ton to R4 600 a ton. Pigs, chick­ens and most cat­tle are fed with grain be­fore be­ing slaugh­tered. Dairies feed al­most all their an­i­mals grain in pro­duc­tion. Grain prices have a big im­pact on the price of food in gen­eral, and con­sumers can ex­pect strong food-price in­fla­tion in 2016.”

Van Zyl said AgriSA was lead­ing a drought task team that would do a sur­vey this month to de­ter­mine ex­actly where it rained, who had planted and what they planted.

“Ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble must be done to keep pro­duc­ers for food se­cu­rity. It is a crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion,” said Van Zyl.

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