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Farmers’ plight prolonged by lack of aid, says Odendaal

Farmers in areas such as Aberdeen and Willowmore, who have been battling a prolonged drought for six years, have boreholes which have started to run dry
A DESERT: Farmers in areas such as Aberdeen and Willowmore, who have been battling a prolonged drought for six years, have boreholes which have started to run dry

Seven boreholes within an area of 5,8194m hectares — that is the only aid the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform is able to spare for farmers in the drought-plagued Sarah Baartman district after receiving just a fraction of the requested drought relief funding.

Farmers in the district, who have been battling a prolonged drought for six years, have boreholes in areas such as Aberdeen and Willowmore which are starting to run dry.

This will also have a devastating impact on jobs in the region, according to DA MPL Retief Odendaal, who highlighted the farmers’ plight in a statement on Friday.

The department revealed on Wednesday that it was planning to spend R25m of the R35m received in drought aid assistance from the national government on the development of only 64 boreholes in the province.

The remaining R10m will be used for the implementation of a fodder relief programme.

The 64 boreholes will cost, on average, R390,000 each, including the infrastructure needed to operate them.

Odendaal said their concerns, however, were that the department was paying hugely inflated prices for boreholes, which he claimed could in most instances be procured in the private sector for a fraction of this price.

“More concerning, however, is the fact that while the Sarah Baartman district municipality is the only district municipality that has been declared a drought disaster area in the Eastern Cape, the lion’s share of drought relief will be directed to other districts in the province,” he said.

This happens while farmers in the Gamtoos Valley, which is also part of the Sarah Baartman District, were dealt a devastating blow when their water allocation from the Kouga Dam was slashed by 80% for the new water year.

“The DA has been furnished with proof that some 65 commercial farmers in this district have made application to the department for assistance with the drilling of boreholes, with even more applications likely to follow soon,” Odendaal said.

“Last week I visited the embattled farming communities of Aberdeen, Willowmore and Steytlerville and my oversight inspection of the Sarah Baartman district continued this week as I visited farmers and their representatives in the Jansenville and Klipplaat communities.

“I will be adding my additional findings to a detailed report, which has been submitted to the standing portfolio committee for rural development and agrarian reform.

“The department has no choice but to urgently avail further drought aid to embattled farmers on the western side of the province.

“This additional relief could be made available through budget cuts and redirecting existing funding.

“Given the fact that the department will be unable to spend its entire budget for the financial year at hand amid the Covid-19 constraints, failure to effect such budget cuts and provide much-needed drought assistance, in the form of water and feed for livestock, would be criminal.”

On Wednesday, rural development and agrarian reform MEC spokesperson Ayongezwa Lungisa said the business plan the department had submitted to the National Treasury outlined a total requirement of R643m in relief funding, but it had been allocated R35m.

“The R35m that has been allocated will be used in terms of the business plans approved by the national disaster management centre.

“Of this, R25m will be used towards the development of 64 boreholes.

“In Alfred Nzo we will do 10, 15 in OR Tambo municipality, seven in Sarah Baartman, Chris Hani will get 14 and Joe Gqabi will receive 10.

“We understand these numbers are not enough, but resource constraints limit us to these numbers as allocated per district.

“The remaining R10m will be used for the development of lucerne fodder production.”