The Democratic Alliance (DA) opposition party is calling for the South African government to declare the worst drought in decades a national disaster because of the threat to food security.
Shadow minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries Annette Steyn said the party was “deeply concerned” about the future of agriculture in South Africa, after figures showed the sector was shrinking and was the main contributor to a slowdown in economic growth.
Steyn warned of “unaffordable food price inflation” and urged the government to take action.
According to Stats SA figures, GDP growth in South Africa’s economy fell to 1.3% in 2015, down from 1.5% in 2014. Severe drought conditions saw the agricultural sector contract by 8.4% in 2015 compared to the previous year, the largest annual fall in agriculture production since 1995, driven by a sharp drop in the production of field crops.
During the fourth quarter of 2015, economic activity in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry reflected negative growth of 14% per cent.
In a statement Steyn said: “The figures show the agriculture sector shrinking at an alarming rate, a culmination of inadequate government planning and economic stimuli, deepened by the effects of the current drought gripping the whole country.”
Five provinces have been declared disaster zones as a result of the drought, including KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, North West, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga. The severity of the dry spell has been blamed on the El Nino weather system.
The DA said since the outbreak of the drought 37,000 agricultural jobs have been lost, with a knock-on effect on the manufacturing sector where 36,000 jobs have been lost, mostly in food processing.
Last month the South African deputy minister of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, Bheki Cele, announced a package to assist farmers.
“A total package of just under R1bn has been approved in addition to the R124m allocated by provinces to assist the affected farmers with livestock feeds and livestock water,” he said.
Cele said that the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector contributed more than R70bn to the South African economy, but the drought was threatening the national priorities linked to food security, job security and the economic growth.
“We are engaging the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Land Bank, who have already made available over R100m to assist farmers, with credit facilities related to drought,” he said.
However, Steyn called for more action: “If we do not unite in actively fighting the drought, South Africa’s economy will be brought to its knees, placing food security at great risk and leading to unaffordable food price inflation. The DA therefore again urges government to declare the current drought a national disaster in order to provide a coordinated response to the disaster.”