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Ben Kotze

Drought and logistics hit Ladismith fruit producers hard

By Kara van der Berg

The aftermath of the drought that hit the Klein Karoo in 2016 is still being felt by the area’s farmers even though the drought technically ended two years ago. “The drought had different effects on different farmers,” says Ben Kotze, a dry tree fruit farmer whose farm is located just outside Ladismith. “Everyone in the area lost trees to some degree, but some people had more damage than others.”

Kotze says the drought was the worst he had ever experienced. The rainfall drastically declined in 2016 though the drought-hit hardest in 2018/19. The drought massively impacted the income of farmers, which had a knock-on effect on the economy of the greater Klein Karoo community. Towns like Ladysmith, where a large part of the community relies on seasonal and permanent work on farms, felt the impact of the drought economically. “Less fruit means less work, so the drought led to higher numbers of unemployment in the region.”

Those farmers who lost more hectares due to the lack of water took longer to bounce back. “Farmers that lost fewer hectares could get back into production sooner,” says Kotze. The rain came in the winter of 2020, filling up dams and giving hope to the area. But, as Kotze says, “The drought is going to have consequences for a long time to come.”

Just as many farmers were bouncing back from the drought, global logistic issues, tied to the Coronavirus pandemic, emerged. These have been exasperated in recent months due to the war in Ukraine and issues with Transnet at the Cape Town port. The war in Ukraine and ongoing market instability have also led to an increase in input costs. The cost of fertilizer, shipping and containers have all increased following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. The logistic issues have impacted these farmers’ income, which was already in a precarious position after the drought. “If we had two normal seasons after the drought, we would have been able to recover, but that hasn’t happened due to the logistic problems. “The drought was like a rock weighing on your chest. Just when I felt like I could breathe again, the problems at the ports started.”

Matthys Vd Merwe

Matthys van der Merwe decided to sell his family farm.

Matthys van der Merwe, who farms in the Hoeko Valley, near Ladismith, says the logistics were also a nightmare for them. “Just when we could start harvesting again, the Cape Town port fiasco began.” Van der Merwe is a fifth-generation farmer on the historic farm, Spera Boerdery, which mostly exports its fruit. However, the combination of the drought and market issues has led him to decide to sell the farm. “We removed 30% of our hectares due to the drought.”

Van der Merwe, just like Kotze and many other farmers in the region, says the problems at the ports hampered their attempts at recovery after the drought. The biggest part of van der Merwe’s farm is plums, which had an exceptionally bad year. “The prices and logistics for plums were a disaster. Because of the drought, we don’t have the money to replace plums with other fruits.” Though there has been enough water for two seasons, water security is not yet assured in the area surrounding Ladismith.

Kotze says, “Until we have water security, we as farmers can’t decide if we want to replace the hectares we lost during the drought. The drought forced us to think differently about water.”  Though water security is better in the area where he farms, one must remember the circumstances. “We ended this season with 50% water in the dams. That being said, we have 30% fewer hectares to water.”

But as Kotze says, “We’re still here, aren’t we?”


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