7 March 2016

South Africa: 'No One Here Is Suffering. but We Are for Sure Not Unaffected.'

Despite the fact that Mpumalanga has been declared a disaster area due to the drought, some areas aren't suffering as badly as others... yet. Maize farmer, GERDA VON WIELLIGH spoke to Aaisha Dadi Patel about the impact the drought has had on her crops and livestock.

We know it's drought right now, and it's a bad time for farmers. Sometimes I feel bad because in our area, here in Hendrina, it isn't so bad here as it is in - for example - the Free State. But that doesn't mean we are not affected. The drought may be subtle where we are, but it's still there. From September to now, we have had about 400mm of rain.

On my farm, we have sheep, cattle and maize. I feel bad to complain because I'm lucky that my animals are still alive and relatively healthy, and I managed to get a yield from the crops. But this is not to say that there is nothing.

It is definitely drier than it was. The maize and the early crops, planted in the middle of last year, didn't do as well as the later crops have done. A lot of them died or were not edible or able to be sold at all. We are used to around 700mm of rain a year, so I'm hopeful, especially if it's still going to rain in March. I feel like we can't complain - but we don't know how things are going to turn out yet.

But without a doubt, the drought has affected us. It's slight, but it's there. When we look at the total harvesting of the mielies that we do, for example, there isn't seven tonnes a hectare like normal, but there are still three tonnes - I feel like I must be grateful for something.

The weather patterns are different lately, even if it has been subtle changes. We had a lot of hail when it rained, which is not always common, and which is not very good for the crops. Now, during summer, we had very high temperatures around 38 degrees, which is not normal for Hendrina, and 40 degrees in the veld. It's getting hotter every year. We aren't having very cold winters like we're used to, and even this affects the crop, graze and then everything else too. But I feel lucky - there are some farmers who have got nothing at all.

The water is definitely less than usual. We have the Olifants River running through our farm but the water just runs, it doesn't gush like usual. We give the sheep and cows a bit of extra food. The cattle can cope with the current conditions, and so can I. There were times in August, September when we saw the grass going yellowy, but from October it's been fine. I am lucky that I didn't have to sell my cattle or shoot my sheep. In Ermelo, 65km from me, my friends had to sell their cattle. You'd rather sell them while they are still fat and looking good, than leaving them to die or having to shoot them.

No one is suffering. But we are for sure not unaffected. Economically we are affected. The price of cattle is very low. So you can't sell at this stage - this is catching me now. Prices are bad. Everything is going up - the graze and everything, but the prices for your cattle are going down.

With the mielies, we are having to adjust as well. Things are not as usual. If you get R4, 000 per hectare for your mielies, then it's fine. It's better than having 5/6 tonnes, and getting R1, 200 a hectare because of the quality. If you look at the way that mielies grow, this is big. The rain was late, and it wasn't heavy enough at the right time and stage of growth when they needed it, as it usually is every year. So some [mielies] fill up, and some don't. But we will see what March holds, and the rest of 2016 after that - I hope we get more rain this year.

As told to Aaisha Dadi Patel

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