Beverley Schäfer and the department of agriculture's chief engineer for sustainable resource management Peter Keuk inspect plants in the Karoo.

The Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape has disbursed R 8.3 million in drought support to 586 farmers in the Central Karoo in January, and will continue to provide support in the region which is experiencing severe drought conditions.

Economic Opportunities MEC, Beverley Schäfer visited three farms in Laingsburg on Friday to meet with farmers who are currently in the fourth year of a crippling drought.

The Department of Agriculture has been providing support to small scale and commercial farmers in the form of vouchers for fodder. Following a veld assessment report conducted in October, the decision was taken to increase support from every second month, to monthly in the extremely critical areas which includes the entire Central Karoo region.

In November and December, the department issued aid to the value of nearly R8 million a month to 563 and 569 Central Karoo farmers respectively.

The three sheep farmers MEC Schäfer met with, all receive drought aid from the Department.

“The farmers I met with had various ideas for ways in which farmers in the region could be supported and assisted and we will be investigating how best to do this. During my visit on Friday, I saw first-hand how the grasses and plants which ordinarily provide grazing for sheep have died out. Farmers are reliant on the fodder support which they receive from the department, as well as donations. Despite drastically reducing their herd sizes, they told me it’s just not enough,” she said.

“The drought has been ongoing in the region for four years, and despite being a summer rainfall area, there has been very little rain. These farms form an important part of the regional economy and are important for job creation. These farmers are committed to saving the jobs of their staff, and are struggling to make ends meet. They all had ideas of how best the Department could assist, and we are now going to be exploring the feasibility of these ideas, within the constraints of the budget and government spending regulations.”

Lukas Botes of Elim farm said he had yet to calculate his costs for 2018, but said he had spent hundreds of thousands of Rands on feed in 2017. Donations of roughage were being made by farmers across the country, however, farmers are battling to pay the transport costs to get it to the area.

“If it wasn’t for the help of the government and other farmers who have given us roughage for free, I don’t know. We wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Maryke Gouws has lived on the Antjieskraal farm for 30 years. Two years ago, her husband passed away and she has been running the farm with the assistance of her two farm workers since.

She said the rivers in the area last had water in them five years ago and while there was water underground, they had to sink their boreholes deeper. She said it had been about a year since her sheep had been able to graze in the veld, and lucerne required too much water to grow.

Asked what her plans were going forward, Gouws said: “You begin to run out of plans. I don’t know what to do if it doesn’t rain.”

Chrisjan van der Vyver said that the drought was creating a further problem on his farm Op Zoek, as hungry baboons, unable to find food, were starting to kill his sheep.

“This is the worst drought I’ve experienced in the 30 years I’ve farmed here. Thankfully there are lots of people helping here- because some families are living hand to mouth.”

MEC Schäfer said: “Farmers have been hard hit by this disaster and our objective as a department has been to provide some stability and certainty at a time when there is very little. We will continue to provide assistance, and engage with farmers to find further ways in which we can assist to ensure that we are able to protect the rural economy and job creation.”