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Food Prices To Soar

| Economic factors

South Africans will have to pay more for food in the New Year if the drought continues to wreak havoc on this year’s harvest.

Christo Joubert of National Agricultural Marketing sounded this warning yesterday, following Water and Sanitation Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s announcement on the state of the drought ravaging the country.

“The situation is critical, but there is still some time to go. We usually produce between 9 to 10 million tons of maize annually, and because of the severe drought, it could be less.

“The problem is that we can’t import white maize, as there isn’t a lot available in the world and it’s also a quality issue. There is also a possibility of inflation rising on food prices,” Joubert warned.

“We currently have enough maize to carry us through to July next year, but how big the crop will be that is still to be harvested will be determined in January.

“ If we have a drought as serious as the 1982/1983, 1992/1993 and 1998 droughts, then we’ll run into trouble,” Joubert said.

On Thursday, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ crop estimates committee released a statement detailing the intentions of farmers to plant summer crops for next year. It shows that farmers intend producing fewer commercial crops including white maize, yellow maize, sunflower seeds, soya beans, groundnuts, sorghum and dry beans.

All of these are vital for the production of food and vital for the economy.

Intentions to plant summer crops are based on the results of a non-probability survey conducted within the department and reflects the position as of the middle of

last month. According to the survey, commercial producers intend to plant 2 551 000 hectares of maize for 2016, which is 3.8 percent or 102 050 hectares less than the 2 653 000 planted last season.

“Producers indicated that less maize will be planted for the 2016 season because they are under pressure due to the current dry weather conditions. However, the rainfall can still influence farmers’ decisions.”

Sunflower seed, sorghum and soya bean planting will also decrease due to the weather conditions.

Joubert said maize was not only the country’s staple, but was also important for the poultry industry, and less maize produced would mean there was less feed available.

As for winter crops such as wheat, the expected production is 1 542 000 tons, which is 93 050 tons less than the previous forecast of 1 635 000 tons. The main reason for the decrease is because of the low rain levels in the western parts of the Western Cape.

African Farmers Association of SA secretary-general Aggrey Mahanjana has called on the government to consider restructuring its disaster management strategy. Instead of the government reacting to disasters, he said, it should deal with them more proactively.

Meanwhile, Mokonyane has appealed to South Africans to use water sparingly.

She even suggested invoking the power of prayer to summon rain clouds.

“We’ll have to have prayer services because there are those who believe that with prayer we can have rain. We’ll have to get traditional leaders and those involved in traditional healing… If they do believe they can do something, they must do it…”

Prolonged lower than normal rainfall since the beginning of the year now means that drought conditions are being experienced countrywide. Climate change had already influenced rainfall patterns in some parts of the country and the El Niño effect caused a massive heatwave recently, according to Mokonyane. But, she said, Gauteng’s water supply was safe and the province faced no imminent risk of water shortages.

In drought-stricken areas of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and parts of North West, Limpopo and the Northern Cape, “about 50 percent of local water storage is problematic and could become critical if they are not managed accordingly”, the minister said.

The drought was now affecting 173 of the 1 628 water supply schemes nationwide, or 2.7 million households.

Mokonyane explained that the average dam levels at the Vaal and Crocodile West systems, which supply most of Gauteng’s water, are at 84 percent. This, she said, “poses no manageable short-term risk”.

In Gauteng, she pointed out, her department’s assessment and planning showed there was enough water in the system and storage to guarantee supply to Gauteng in particular. The department had released water from the Sterkfontein Dam to the Vaal Dam to “avoid having to impose possible restrictions in the near future”, she said.

The fact that Gauteng received its water from the Vaal River system, supplied by Lesotho, meant “it should therefore be fine for the next couple of years”.

Officials, she said, were monitoring the system monthly.

“We want to urge South Africa to appreciate that we are naturally a water-scarce country. We need to re-use water and use it more effectively, and we have to work together.

“We will reduce supply where there is no water being provided, we’ll augment that with water tanks… but if we don’t use water wisely, even that water provided by tanks will end up not being available,” Mokonyane warned.

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