Gamtoos River Valley water restrictions eased

Gamtoos Irrigation Board CEO Pierre Joubert looks at the dam level. File picture
Gamtoos Irrigation Board CEO Pierre Joubert looks at the dam level. File picture
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Drought-hit farmers in the Gamtoos River Valley can breathe a sigh of relief after water restrictions were eased for 200 farmers who rely on the Kouga Dam for water.

The Department of Water Affairs eased the water allocations from 20% to 40% of their usual annual drawings following negotiations with the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB) and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality earlier this week.

The move could see an increase in farming productivity as well as more seasonal employment in the area.

GIB CEO Pierre Joubert said that as of Thursday morning, the farmers could increase their water usage increasing productivity of farming in the area.

While Joubert said that farmers were grateful, they felt the department could have been more lenient.

“There is more water available, and the allocation could perhaps have been increased to 60%. But we are grateful to the department – and especially to the department’s regional representatives – for fighting to achieve the lifting of restrictions to 40,” he said.

“If the Algoa system reaches 65%, then all restrictions pertaining to irrigation will be lifted per the government regulations.”

GIB chairman and farmer Tertius Meyer said that while the water department erred on the side of caution, he also felt they could have been more lenient.

“In October 2017, the Kouga Dam was at 12,4% capacity and farmers were allocated 40% [of the usual annual water allocation].

Today the dam is sitting at over 50%, yet they get the same allocation. It just does not make sense,” he said.

GIB financial and HR manager Rienette Colesky welcomed the news.

“Farmers using the Kouga system were under severe stress due to the extremely low water allocation. This will make a bit of a difference and we can all breathe a little easier.”

FNB agricultural manager for the western parts of the Eastern Cape, Grewar Oosthuizen, said that easing of restrictions would put farmers in a better position to plant crops and employ more seasonal workers during harvest time.

“An allocation of 40% is more in line with the amount of water allocated last year, and farmers will be able to manage their land better, although the future still depends on how much rain we get in the next few months.”

Oosthuizen said that seasonal workers and hard-pressed consumers could untimely benefit.

“The first thing that happens when a drought grips is that farmers cut back on vegetable production, resulting in products being imported from other provinces at an increased cost,” he said.

“This has a massive impact on seasonal workers, with many breadwinners failing to get work. At the present allocation of only 40%, this impact is significant.

“However, even if just some farmers decide to start growing cash crops again, seasonal pickers will find work, and with a reduced need to import products, prices could actually drop. Banks have a massive interest in farmers’ well-being, but the drought is always a concern in highly intensive farming, so the easing of restrictions will provide some financial relief,” he said.