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More needs to be done to fight double disaster in Northern Cape – DA

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Not only is the Province batting Covid-19 it is also trying the fight the worst drought in a century and the government needs to do more to shield the provincial agricultural sector, says the DA.

The Democratic Alliance in the Northern Cape has called on the government to do more to shield the provincial agricultural sector from the hard blows faced by Covid-19 on top of the worst drought in a century, which sees the province battling a double disaster.

According to the DA, a recent report submitted to National Minister of COGTA, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, clearly summarised the severity of the drought situation stating that “pockets of drought remain obstinately visible in various parts of the country and that these are likely to deteriorate at alarming proportions”.

In a statement issued by DA spokesperson for Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, Reinette Liebenberg, the party states that the reality of the matter is that the drought has reduced core stock for food production by between 50% to 75%. 

“The current death toll of Northern Cape farmers by suicide, is currently also higher than that of Covid-19 in the Province,” Liebenberg added.

“While Covid-19 has shown us just how quickly and determinedly government can respond to a disaster when the political will exists, we expect the same level of determination to be applied in dealing with the drought.”

Liebenberg stated that in respect of Covid-19, a national funding package for the agricultural sector, to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, was announced shortly after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the initial 21-day lockdown.

“Concerningly, the funding excludes commercial farmers, who are instead encouraged to take out further loans from the Land Bank. The DA has, however, appealed to national government to expand relief funds to commercial farmers as well and we are awaiting a response to this call,” she said.

“Meanwhile, even though the drought, which impacts severely on three provinces including the Northern Cape, was also declared a National Disaster in February already, drought-specific disaster funding has been insufficient to adequately assist embattled farmers in this Province.”

Liebenberg stated that a past allocation of R26 million by the provincial government, while welcomed, saw vouchers of an average of R2 500 handed out to 9 646 farmers. “The more recent R300 million disaster relief funding from the Department of Water and Sanitation was predominantly earmarked for poorly functioning municipalities, with just R85 million of this funding being directed towards water provision and specifically the drilling of boreholes, for farmers. In addition, a further planned allocation of R36 million for drought support seems to have disappeared off the radar.”

She added that allocations to different districts have also been questioned “as it appears that the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) in conjunction with COGHSTA, did not take the newest rainfall and veld conditions into consideration”. 

“For example, Frances Baard district received good rains and is known for their quick grass regrowth, while areas like Pixley Ka Seme still remain in the grip of the drought.”

The DA called on Premier Zamani Saul to also treat the prolonged drought with the seriousness and urgency required by the Disaster Management Act, 2002, and ensure that the essential agricultural sector gets the support that it needs to contribute to the sustainability of the country’s food basket.

“In this regard, the roll-out of awaited drought relief must be sped up and also allocated in a fair, efficient manner to all affected farmers.”

Liebenberg stated that it would be a tragedy for the farming community to survive Covid-19, only to lose their livelihoods and to plunge the country into a national food disaster.