Mzansi Agriculture Talk

Agriculture

Lack of drought understanding leads us to nowhere

Former Minister of COGTA Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced in 2018 that government made available a total amount of R433.524 million from the Disaster Grants as immediate disaster relief funding for drought within the three most affected provinces (Eastern, Northern and Western Cape Provinces).

5 years ago, South Africa experienced its brutal drought ever. Endless drought conferences were convened advising government on approaches to deal with this disaster.

Today, rural folks and farmers in these areas are still battling the effects of drought. Rivers have run empty with limited rainfall visiting the fields. Livestock farmers are forced to sell their livestock at less market prices while crop farmers have been encouraged to postpone planting due to rainfall variability.

Former Minister of COGTA Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced in 2018 that government made available a total amount of R433.524 million from the Disaster Grants as immediate disaster relief funding for drought within the three most affected provinces (Eastern, Northern and Western Cape Provinces).

There has been no thorough accountability of how these drought relief funds were spent including progress reports showcasing how farmers were assisted.

As early as October this year, NPO Gift of the Givers could no longer wait for government and intervened with water supplies for the drought stricken Graaff Reinet residents (Eastern Cape).

Yet, the problem seemed wide spread in the Eastern Cape and those in the know attribute this to lack of understanding the drought problem at municipal level.

Mike Muller, visiting Adjunct Professor at University of the Witwatersrand concurred that the drought issue in South Africa might not be understood entirely.

“There’s limited recognition of the different types of drought and how they affect different sectors of society. Dry periods can devastate agriculture without necessarily affecting water supplies to cities and industries. Plants in fields and livestock grazing on natural pasture depend on moisture in the top layers of the soil” he said.

According to Muller, internationally there was a standard acknowledgement by climate scientists, hydrologists and disaster management specialists that drought can be classified under 3 categories;

  • A meteorological drought occurs when rainfall is less than average over a significant period, often a month.
  • An agricultural drought is considered to be taking place when a lack of rainfall leads to a decline in soil moisture affecting pastures and rain-fed crops.
  • A hydrological drought occurs when a meteorological drought significantly reduces the availability of water resources in rivers, lakes and underground.

The Department of Water and Sanitation had categorised parts of Eastern Cape and Limpopo provinces as severely affected by the drought with water resources becoming stressed.

However, this seemed not be the case as there was no hydrological drought in South Africa as some parts of the provinces experienced rainfall.

“From a technical perspective, the threat has been exaggerated. In summer rainfall areas, there has been a slow start to the rainy season. And while dam levels are lower than they were last year, they’re not yet at critical levels. An analysis of the critical Integrated Vaal River System found that there was no need for water restrictions this summer” said Muller. The immediate drought problems that need to be addressed are those affecting the country’s farmers, not those affecting municipal water supply. Agricultural engineers, best tasked to deal with the drought issue were not incorporated in the ongoing agricultural drought.

Lack of drought understanding leads us to nowhere
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