More than R1bn damage to Western Cape farms after West Coast, Winelands flooding

14th July 2023

By: News24Wire


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The Western Cape agriculture sector suffered more than R1-billion in infrastructure damage during recent flooding, and now the provincial agriculture department wants to have the area declared a disaster to free up funding for repairs.

According to the department, an updated assessment puts the cost of the damage at R1.053-billion, with the West Coast, Cape Winelands and Overberg the worst affected.

Last month, a series of cold fronts led to heavy rain and caused severe flooding in some regions. The floods caused extensive damage to riverbanks, irrigation equipment, private roads and sediment over vineyards and fruit orchards.

Agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer said repairs would cost around R748-million for rivers, riparian zones, vineyards and orchards due to large volumes of sediment removed upstream and deposited downstream in rivers, riverbanks, vineyards and orchards  - the most expensive in the province's list of damages.

Repairs to irrigation systems are expected to cost R7.7-million, and fencing repairs are expected to cost around R1.4-million.

"The above estimates do not consider potential losses experienced along the agriculture value chain, nor provide any insight into the impact on future exports," Meyer added.

Seasonal workers have lost around R18.7-million in income, and farmers have experienced crop losses of R278-million, the department said.

Agri SA Western Cape chief executive officer Jannie Strydom said estimates from the provincial department were based on a survey of affected farmers and were "quite representative of the damages that we've seen".

Vice-chairperson for the Citrus Growers Association in the Western Cape, Gerrit van der Merwe, aid the estimated flood damage to 8 000 hectares of farms in the Orange Valley, Elephants River Valley, Clanwilliam and Citrusdal amounted to R500-million worth of losses for the industry. The citrus industry was one of the hardest hit.

He said farmers experienced a 10 to 15% fruit drop as heavy rains caused fruit to fall from trees.

"The fruit on some trees had been lost completely. The impact of these losses can carry into next year," he said.

According to Van der Merwe, the floods lowered the volume of fruit harvested, with many farmers unable to reach their orchards with tractors to harvest or rehabilitate.

"The volume of fruit is affected, and lower quantities will be sent to market. This will have a direct impact on jobs as fewer people are needed to pack the fruit. We are expecting 10% less fruit to be packaged," he said.

Van der Merwe added that many farmers in Citrusdal had to deal with the psychological impact of floods, finding themselves forced to look for ways to continue farming, despite the crisis.

"Small farmers have also been affected differently, and people in rural areas within Citrusdal were displaced. We had to organise food for people in the community. Some are busy rebuilding their houses," he said.

One Citrusdal farmer, Krisjan Mouton, said farmers could experience losses as some of the fruit will not be of the right quality for export.

He added that farmers in the area were attempting to rebuild what they could , but there were a few who had "money lying around" to carry out repairs.

He added the farms in the area experienced "terrible damage" after the "catastrophic" rains.

"There was just a mass of water that came down the Elephants River. I've never seen anything like it in my life. One of the farmers in the area planted an orchard in November last year and the trees were still small. The whole orchard was under water and most of it is gone now. A dam burst and the water flooded another farm, causing around R4-million worth of damage," he said.

Executive director of the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, Billy Claasen, described the floods as "devastating" for rural communities.

However, he said the groups most affected were small rural farmers and farmworkers.

"For farmers, most of what was damaged – their crops, property and equipment – is insured. When a disaster happens, they can claim from the insurance or get help from the government," he said.

"But most farm workers can't afford insurance to cover the damage to their homes or food gardens."

Claasen added that farmers could retrench workers if they suffered losses due to the flooding, leaving farm workers without income to recover from the flood damage.

Meyer said the department would attempt to have the affected areas declared a disaster zone.

"Armed with a more credible, albeit conservative estimate, officials will, together with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, approach the National Disaster Management Centre with the aim of having the flood-damaged areas declared a disaster and unlocking the relevant funding and support that could be provided," he said.

"In the interim, the [department] will ensure that affected producers have access to the best technical information through its extension and advisory services. In addition, the department will also extend its current river protection works programme to flood-affected river systems as this will mitigate the impact of future flooding."

He added that the department would reprioritise existing allocations and approach national departments for funding to cover the costs of river protection works.

Strydom said declaring the area a disaster would assist in freeing up funding to repair infrastructure, such as farm roads, as well as damaged riverbanks.

However, he said many farmers could find themselves out of pocket for "insurable" losses, such as damaged crops. Other insurable losses include infrastructure, such as irrigation and netting, he said.

"Crop insurance is very expensive, and not all farmers have the ability to insure their crops. Insurable infrastructure is not usually covered by disaster support, and that, unfortunately, will be for the individual's account," said Strydom.

He added that the effects of the flooding could be felt for years, especially if farmers lost perennial crops in the flooding.

"Perennial crops take five to eight years for the farmer to break even. If established orchards were washed away and farmers are forced to start from scratch, they could face future losses," he said.

Edited by News24Wire



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