Smaller farmers need assistance urgently

DEEP LOSSES: A potato farmer in the Langkloof says he is losing up to 50% of his usual revenue during the coronavirus lockdown
DEEP LOSSES: A potato farmer in the Langkloof says he is losing up to 50% of his usual revenue during the coronavirus lockdown

Eastern Cape farmers have been hit by a double whammy.

For months, they have been besieged by the worst drought in living memory, as reported on by this newspaper time and again.

Now  they are dealing with the impact of Covid-19 and the ensuing national lockdown, with some calling it the worst disaster to date — even more so than the crippling drought.

And it’s the small- to medium-scale farmers who are hardest hit.

This week, several farmers described the effect of the lockdown on their livelihood, with one, William Kapank, reporting revenue losses of up to 50%.

Kapank has been farming vegetables in the Langkloof for more than 35 years.

“Our sales have gone down. Shops are closing earlier, some of our customers are not even requesting supply at the moment, and we have had to cut down on the amount we supply to shops,” he said.

“And you must remember, we are also still dealing with the drought, which has added expenses. We hope we get through this.”

It is a sentiment echoed by farmers throughout the province, among them Uitenhage citrus farm manager Simphiwe Yawa.

Yawa believes small- to medium-scale farmers are also contributing to food security during this crisis and should not have been excluded from agriculture minister Thoko Didiza’s R1.2bn Covid-19 relief package.

We agree. These farmers are helping to keep the economy going, even if their contributions are smaller than those of commercial farmers.

They are also the ones who will keep their communities closer to home going by providing employment so that breadwinners can put food on the table.

We often take these farmers for granted, without giving it a second thought, because our supermarkets always have fresh produce.

It is at times like this — when entire communities are faced with hunger brought on by not being able to work because of the lockdown — that we truly understand food security and appreciate the contribution of  farmers.

We fervently hope they get through this crisis and implore the powers that be to reconsider aiding our small- and medium-scale farmers.

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