The drought gripping the Western Cape shows no sign of abating and threatens to decimate the province’s crucial agricultural sector.
Halfway through the Western Cape’s winter rainy season, rainfall remains disappointingly erratic, dam levels are still critically low and farmers are anxious, with big losses expected.
Agriculture is the backbone of the province’s economy. The Western Cape produces more than 50% of SA’s agricultural exports, with the EU being one of the biggest export destinations. The region also accounts for almost 75% of annual offshore wine sales, worth R5bn.
The drought has already taken a toll on agricultural production. An analysis by economists in the Western Cape department of agriculture found that a 10% reduction in yields as a result of the drought could cost the economy R3.2bn and place 17,000 jobs under threat.
“Our research also shows that a 30% loss of agricultural water in the Western Cape could lead to losses in farm income to the total of R309m,” says provincial economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde.
Apple exports are down 9% and pears 6% on 2016 as a direct result of the drought, says fruit industry body Hortgro.
“We might run into trouble now if it doesn’t start raining soon and a lot‚” Hortgro GM for trade and markets Jacques du Preez says. “The ongoing drought will have a negative knock-on effect on next year’s crop. The degree has yet to be determined‚ but the trees have taken stress.”
The effect of the drought is getting worse and more devastating, says Carl Opperman, CEO of Agri Western Cape, a body that represents farmers.
“Although we are thankful for every drop, the rainfall over the past few weeks had no impact on agriculture in the province. There are no more pastures in the province and roughage hasn’t been available for months in the province. The province has also seen a massive reduction in livestock as the drought continues.”