S Africa farmers devastated by El Nino drought

Farmers in the Free State province say dry spells are common but current drought is unprecedented.

Senekal, South Africa – It is being described as the worst drought to have hit South Africa in 20 years.

Five out of the country’s nine provinces have been declared disaster zones as dry conditions triggered by the El Nino weather pattern continue to devastate the country.

Borrie Erasmus, a farmer whose family has worked and lived on the same land in the Free State province for the past five decades, told Al Jazeera he had not seen anything like it.

“On our farm, there has never been a time when there has not been any maize in December. We could not even try planting seeds. It has been drier than ever,” Erasmus said.

The drought is costing South African farmers more than an estimated $600m in lost crops. While the government says it will spend $19m on assisting farmers, it also suggested that farmers should start adapting to changing weather patterns.

READ MORE: Southern Africa’s drought leaves millions hungry

“We can’t continue relying only on dry agriculture,” Senzeni Zokwana, South Africa’s minister of agriculture, told Al Jazeera.

“We need to put more funding so that we can build our capacity to put most of our production on irrigation which will mean new dams, which will mean new infrastructure.”

Al Jazeera weather presenter Richard Angwin says El Nino, which strictly refers to the surface warming of the eastern and central Pacific Basin, has had a knock-on effect across much of the world.

This phenomenon was particularly strong in 2015. 


On Sunday, Bheki Cele, South Africa’s deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries told the Reuters news agency the drought was still not a national disaster.

“As we are experiencing this kind of drought, for some reason God has been kind and late rains did come, and we think the six million tonnes (of maize) we were looking to import – we have downgraded that to four,” he said.

“The only hope is that rains continue – if they do we might be out of the woods,” Cele said, adding: “We will not declare a national disaster.”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters