The pain and the poverty

The se­vere drought in North West has crip­pled the liveli­hood sub­sistI ep­n­racy“efoarn­radin sso­mall- scale farm­ers of scores of

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

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.

PHO­TOS: MATHAEO LONKOKILE

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

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