The pain and the poverty
The severe drought in North West has crippled the livelihood subsistI epnracy“efoarnradin ssomall- scale farmers of scores of
Bakaetswe Assegai stands in her cattle kraal leaning on her makeshift walking stick, staring at a cow’s protruding ribs. The 77-year-old woman from Dingateng, along the North WestBotswana border, is one of 21 000 subsistence and small-scale farmers in the province who have been severely affected by the drought.
She lost more than half her herd – 21 head of cattle – in three weeks and recent rainfall has yet to bring any relief. About 200 cattle have died in her village since late December.
“I pray for rain so much that sometimes I see myself in my dreams praying some more. It is painful looking at the remaining cattle and thinking they too could soon follow if we don’t get any more rain, and that would mean nothing but the end of us,” she said.
“These cattle are my family. Without them, we’ll be left in dire poverty. We educate our children and grandchildren through these cattle, and whenever there is an emergency, one can always take a few to an auction.”
Her neighbour Ditiro Kanti (66) shares her pain. He lost 12 cattle in December.
“Our village has for years been struggling with water, but there were small dams where our animals could drink. Then the drought came and we had to share a drop with our animals,” Kanti said.
“I lost my cattle in December because an engine that pumps the water for the village had broken. We did not have any water for people, let alone animals, for at least three weeks ... There was no way these cattle were going to survive.
“This is a good time for vultures and wolves, and the most painful time for us.”
The North West agricultural department this week said its drought assessment revealed that 21 000 farmers were affected. Spokesperson Tsholofelo Dintwe said R25 million was set aside for drought relief and water reticulation, and “55 000 bags of fodder has been distributed to farmers across the province since November 2015”.
“Drought-relief efforts undertaken currently are only aimed at assisting subsistence and small producers,” Dintwe said. But Kanti and Assegai ask: “What fodder?” “We see people being given fodder and other assistance, and think that no one cares about us because we live far from towns. Who knows how many cows that fodder could have saved.” Kanti said.
AgriSA said that while recent rainfall brought some hope for maize farmers now standing to harvest 700 million tons with a shortfall of between 2.5 million and 4 million tons, more rain was still needed for stock farmers.
AgriSA deputy executive director Christo van der Rheede said: “We recently enjoyed good rains, but remember, it does not rain grass and, therefore, it’s important to understand that the problem has not yet been solved.”
Meanwhile, some slight improvements in dam water levels have been noted in some provinces. Data published by the department of water and sanitation on Monday revealed Gauteng’s dams went from 81% full last week to 84% full this week, and those in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal increased water levels by 1% each to 55% and 53%, respectively. But water levels in the Eastern Cape (73%), Limpopo (62%) and North West (46%) remained unchanged.
DIRE EXISTENCE Bakaetswe Assegai from Dingateng in North West lost more than half of her herd of cattle in less than a month
FADING AWAY Ditiro Kanti from Dingateng inspects one of his feeble calves. Without water, the cattle are battling to survive and the dams in the area are dry